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Dee Ford views 2018 as a year to make up for lost time

Ford has left much to be desired so far in his four-year career.

Kansas City Chiefs v Oakland Raiders Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

There have been fewer Kansas City Chiefs as polarizing to the fan base over the past four seasons than outside linebacker Dee Ford.

The Chiefs selected Ford, 27, with the No. 23 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, likely hoping he’d serve as the successor to right outside linebacker Tamba Hali, a player now all but retired.

It is undeniable to this point that Ford hasn’t done that, and a 2017 midseason back surgery that resulted in a failed physical that resulted in the team having to pick up his $8.7 million fifth-year option has only made his standing worse.

Ford has watched as the Chiefs drafted his two potential replacements—first Tanoh Kpassagnon in 2017 and then Breeland Speaks in 2018—both outside linebacker projects selected in the second round. General manager Brett Veach wanted a pass rusher so badly this year, he traded up and selected Speaks in the second round at No. 46 overall despite the Chiefs having a third-round grade on him.

NFL: Preseason-Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

So there’s all that, and it’s not pretty: the Chiefs’ expectations, Ford’s expectations for himself and the failed payoffs of both.

But Monday felt a little different when it came to Ford. He’s arrived to training camp fully healthy, viewing the 2018 campaign as a means to make up for lost time.

“I see it as an opportunity to bring everything together,” Ford said of the upcoming season. “Everyone has seen flashes of what I can do. In order to be a good player, you have to be consistent. You can’t just be good. I think in my third year (2016), in those first 10 games or so before I got hurt, everyone was saying that’s the guy we expected.”

Ford recorded 10.0 sacks in the first nine games he played in 2016. He’s had 7.5 sacks in all of the rest of his four-year career.

We’ve wondered in the past at Arrowhead Pride if Ford’s success came because he lined up on the left side while Justin Houston was out of the lineup, but Ford insisted Monday the success came because he was healthy—and the hamstring issues he had in 2016 and the back issues he had in 2017 are what has kept him from getting back to that happy place.

“That was not a flash,” Ford said of that 10-game stretch. “As a player, it’s important to learn how to be consistent beyond skill. There’s a lot of guys (who are) able to be skillful. We all are the best athletes out here. Being consistent is almost like another skill. As you grow and mature, you understand that to be a great player you can’t just do it for 14 games.

“You have to do it for 16 games. Then the next year you have to do it again for 16 games and again consistently for a 10-year stretch. That’s greatness. Those are my personal expectations.”

Off the field, Ford has always talked the talk when it comes to “greatness,” but his play on the field has never consistently dictated that.

To his credit, he is doing all of the right things leading into 2018. Ford said Monday there is only so much that can come from training, so he came to camp two days early to get back in the swing of things.

“We brought him up here for this,” Chiefs head coach Andy Reid said after practice. “We will just ease him in and let’s see how he does. Nice and slow and communicate with him. We’ve got good guys and that is where it helps. The guys will shoot you straight and they’re not trying to get out of something, you know that—they are competitive guys, just work it out with them.”

SEC Championship - Missouri v Auburn Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Back in September of 2011 at Auburn, Ford’s season was cut off for the same reason as it was in 2017—back issues and surgery. This summer he said he’s looking for a repeat of what happened last time.

“Coming off of back surgery, no one really expects you to be back where you once were,” he said. “It happened to me in college ... and I actually came back a different animal. It’s definitely good motivation. I’m just excited to be back in full form. It’s been a long time since I’ve felt normal.”

Dating back to November of 2016, that is about 20 months ago.

“In order to be great you have to be consistent,” he said. “I see that as this is the time to put it all together.”

For the Chiefs, there couldn’t be a better time for an improved Ford as they seek a quality defense to match what could be an explosive unit on offense.

For Ford, it’s a contract year, and while his career clock may still allow for good, it’s getting awfully late to be great.

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