You won’t find a briefer job description than Dee Ford’s with the San Francisco 49ers.
“My role is to go that way,” Ford said during an introductory press conference on Thursday while pointing out into an audience of reporters. “Nothing else.”
“All gas no brakes,” fellow free agent acquisition Kwon Alexander chimed in, referencing Robert Saleh’s noteworthy mantra.
“Right, right, right. Very simple, man. Very simple,” Ford joked back.
Kyle Shanahan stepped in just to make sure everyone was on the same page.
“’That way’ is towards the quarterback,” he said, earning a laugh from everybody in the Levi’s® Stadium auditorium.
Ford might call his role simple, but it’s one that 49ers fans aren’t about to take for granted. San Francisco hasn’t had an edge rusher post double digit sacks since Aldon Smith in 2012. Ford has two such seasons to his name, including 13 sacks in 2018 and 10 in 2016. Ford (6-foot-2, 252 pounds) is the prototype for what San Francisco was seeking in a top-tier pass rusher.
“He fits the LEO mold perfectly,” John Lynch said at the presser.
Shanahan echoed Lynch and joked that he’s not going to miss game planning for Ford. You’ll remember that Ford had a sack against Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 3 last season. Everyone within the 49ers organization believes that Ford is capable of being the “closer” that the team has sought after.
Speed and violence were the words Shanahan used to describe what makes Ford so special.
“He's been very good for a while,” the coach said. “Whether he's getting the sacks or not, he's extremely hard to block. He's been that way always. That's why he was a first-round pick out of college too. So hopefully, you keep doing the same numbers and it keeps going up. Regardless of that, we have a very good player, and there's not many people better at getting after the quarterback.”
Ford said that he has three pass rush moves that he relies on, all of which utilize his balance of speed and power. They kick in instinctually each snap based on where the tackle is positioned. Think of it like a pitcher not knowing what he’s going to throw until he’s mid-windup. Ford added that he’s comfortable rushing from both sides, comparing it to a basketball player who can drive to his right and left. That intricate repertoire requires a superior level of acumen and confidence. Ford appears to have both in spades.
Much has been made about Ford’s fit in Saleh’s defense. Moving from Kansas City’s 3-4 scheme to Saleh’s 4-3 system made some weary of Ford’s ability to transition smoothly between the two. Shanahan was keen to point out that an outside linebacker in a 3-4 is not much different than a 4-3 defensive end in a wide-nine alignment. Both essentially line up as a 9-technique. It’s a spot that should give Ford all the space he needs to take on a tackle 1-on-1.
“That’s what I do best,” Ford said. “Anytime you have the opportunity to do that every play, alleviating any thought, that makes any player excited.”
Lynch noted that nobody is as excited about the addition of Ford than the team’s interior pass rushers. The attention paid to Ford on the edge should reduce the number of double teams that DeForest Buckner faces inside.
“I help them. They help me," Ford said. "That’s what defense is. Any player who brings a presence and can get off the rock – you’re helping the secondary, you’re helping the linebackers, you’re helping the guy inside of you.”
Ford jokingly scoffed at a question regarding his familiarity with Buckner in an “of course I know about DeForest Buckner” kind of way. In fact, the pass rusher appears fond of the entire roster, saying that the 49ers were just a few players away from being more competitive in 2018.
He knows he fills in one of the missing pieces.
“This is gonna be fun, man,” Ford said.