Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek asked a question to his group during a team meeting on Thursday: "What can you become better at this year?"
Players went around the room formulating individual responses to ways each player can improve coming off of an NFC Championship season.
When it became edge rusher Dee Ford's turn, his response was "availability."
Ford underwent “extensive” knee surgery this offseason after dealing with knee tendinitis that plagued him all of last year. He was forced to miss five games in 2019, while also dealing with hamstring injuries. Despite the ailments, Ford still managed to be effective when on the field. Even in those moments, it was just a small flash of what Ford's production could look like when healthy. According to the pass rusher, 49ers fans have yet to see the real Dee Ford.
"At moments, but not consistently. Not to my level, not to my expectations," Ford said of playing to his potential in 2019. "I did what I could while I could. I did not want to miss that season and leave my team hanging. But that's a part of football. It's a 100 percent guaranteed-injury business.
"You saw glimpses of me, but not to that full throttle."
In his first season with the 49ers, Ford notched 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 games, while also amassing 25 quarterback pressures on just 163 pass-rushing snaps. Together with Nick Bosa and Arik Armstead, the trio was recognized as the best edge defending unit in the NFL heading into the season, according to Pro Football Focus.
That group added to San Francisco's loaded defensive front that finished second in the league in total defense and was the only team to have four-or-more players with 6.5-or-more sacks in 2019. Ford is aware that each season comes with a new set of expectations, and the 49ers can't rely on last year's success. Although the unit sat at the top of the league in a number of categories in 2019, the defense continues to carry an underdog mindset heading into the year.
"For this D-line, each year we have to understand that this is a new year. This is a new team," Ford said. "It's going to take a lot for us to be better than we were last year or to even match that last year. Whatever you did last year really doesn't matter. So, we have a clean slate. We're working just like (when) our backs were against the wall last year. We all have that understanding and we've brought that to work every day."
Months removed from a cleanup procedure, Ford revealed his knee feels "really good" now two weeks into training camp. Contrary to last year's complications, he plans to be a "full participant" through all 16 (and optimistically more) games in 2020, beginning with the team's first padded practices beginning on Monday.
While both the edge rusher and the 49ers hope he can reclaim his production prior to the injuries, Ford knows if he focuses on his health, the numbers and stats will follow.
"A successful season for me is me every play, being the best that I can be every play, and being available every play, that's a successful season," Ford said. "The numbers will always take care of itself because we all know what type of player I am. Every player knows what type of player they are, but it's just about showing up every play, every down, every game. That's my goal."