Dee Ford needs to keep playing.
Andy Reid says it, and the linebacker's play on the field for the Kansas City Chiefs reinforces it. Now it's just a matter of making it work.
On Monday, the Chiefs head coach answered questions from the media about Ford's potential playing time moving forward after a three-sack performance against the San Diego Chargers.
Reid's answer was simple: "I think he just needs to keep playing."
Fortunately for the fans -- but unfortunately for Ford -- the team is not in a position to give over the reins to a full-time position just yet. When Justin Houston returns to his rightful place across from Tamba Hali, Ford will have to wait his turn for sub packages that call his number or for opportunities to give one of the aforementioned pass rushers a breather.
"We've given him more play time this year than we had in the past and kind of rotate him in there," said Reid about the increased time for Ford. "I think it's been good for him, particularly for this situation where he's a full time guy. We'll see how it goes when Justin gets back in there, how the rotation goes."
Last season, Ford was in on 20 percent of all potential special teams snaps and played 122 snaps during his rookie season on defense. With three games left on the schedule, Ford is already at 232, good for 28 percent of all defensive snaps in 2015. However, he's also quit playing on special teams entirely. Then came last Sunday, his first career start, where fans got a glimpse of the sort of playmaking ability and non-stop motor that made the Chiefs select him in the first round.
"[Ford] keeps getting better and better," said Reid about Ford's appearance. "Yesterday you got the full picture. He has three sacks, got beat on a route - a crossing route - by a tight end, but came right back and made one of the biggest plays of the game at the end there, covering, what I think, is a very good football player. He learned from the first one, took care of it the second time and did a pretty good job. He's just got to keep coming. You have to play and play and play and get that experience under your belt."
It's that last statement that presents an interesting dilemma for the Chiefs. For a team in the stretch run with considerable postseason goals, they've tucked other young hopefuls back further on the roster. Ramik Wilson, a promising fourth round pick at linebacker, led the team in tackles filling in for Josh Mauga against the Chicago Bears. Yet Wilson didn't play a single snap on Sunday. There's a reason coaches like Reid go with the experienced players down the stretch. Fatigue sets in. Mental mistakes are made. And there's more at stake than anyone thought there would be after a 1-5 start.
That said, Reid is still making clear statements about the need to play Ford with only three weeks left. Bob Sutton's task then is to find ways to get Ford the reps he needs while making sure the defense doesn't suffer. It will be interesting to see what Ford's on-field production earns him when Houston returns.