SANTA CLARA — Hearing that Dee Ford will be on a “pitch count” in the 49ers’ season opener isn’t jarring news.
Even Ford noted, “that’s standard for any injury.”
Missing time also has been standard for Ford in recent seasons — 30 of 64 games since 2017, to be exact.
But his back issue cooperated enough through training camp and this offseason that the 49ers will have one of the NFL’s elite speed rushers available Sunday, when they open their season at Detroit.
“My role is to do what they brought me here to do: make big plays,” Ford said after Monday’s practice.
The 49ers don’t ask their defensive ends to play every down, so any “pitch count” is almost moot.
However few plays Ford lines up, and however many Nick Bosa appears for in his own comeback tour, the 49ers will deploy them strategically to get after quarterback Jared Goff, who lost his final four meetings with the 49ers before getting traded to Detroit this offseason.
Ford and Bosa don’t need to have a full-time presence. The 49ers added Samson Ebukam and Arden Key in the offseason to complement the defensive end rotation, a carousel that doesn’t require full-time demands like Ford compared to his days in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 3-4 defensive scheme.
Ford said he and Bosa are “in the same situations,” that they want to stay consistent and not overly emphasize any game. Added Ford: “You knock off that first play in a long time in practice and then do the same here in the game, then keep it going, play by play.”
Ford didn’t play in any preseason game, nor did Bosa. But they practiced enough to excite first-year defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who said of his pass rushers: “You have unlimited options with what you can do with all those guys. All of them are really great talents.”
As for Ford’s health, he “never felt out of rhythm coming back.” he rehabilitated with the 49ers’ trainers ever since exiting after last season’s opening loss to Arizona, a game that didn’t aggravate his back issue as much as it did confirm he had one.
That 46-snap effort was the most of his 49ers’ tenure; he averaged 21 snaps per game in 2019.
Ford had back issues at LSU, then, in 2017, he missed 10 games with the Chiefs and required surgery. He rebounded well in 2018 to cap his Chiefs’ tenure, leading to his March 2019 trade to the 49ers.
As for pushing through pain to play Week 1 last season, “it’s a positive for me that turned into a negative,” Ford said. “You only make it worse. I put myself in a bad situation instead of handling it. I pushed through and it worked in reverse.
“Unfortunately I tried to push through it. And backs, spines don’t work like that. It’s good to be back here though.”
He, Bosa and whoever else lines up at left defensive end should make a tough NFL initiation for Lions’ rookie right tackle Penei Sewell, the seventh-overall draft pick from Oregon. Sewell, 20, played only 1 1/2 seasons with the Ducks before opting out last year, and he struggled this preseason in converting from left to right tackle.
Ford said such rookie growing pains are normal.
“It’s never about what you can do. It’s about adapting to situations you’ve never seen before or been in before,” Ford said. “To him everything is new. He’s going to have to adapt and learn things.”
The same doesn’t go for Ford, who views himself like an offensive skill player that dictates matters, adding: “I don’t make adjustments.”
Contributed by local news sources