May 29, 2020
Nick WagonerESPN Staff Writer
- Covered Rams for nine years for stlouisrams.com
- Previously covered University of Missouri football
- Member of Pro Football Writers of America
SANTA CLARA, Calif. — After dealing with knee tendinitis that plagued him as far back as last year’s training camp, San Francisco 49ers defensive end Dee Ford made it an offseason priority to fix the issue.
Ford revealed Friday that he underwent a “pretty extensive cleanup” surgery on his left knee in Pensacola, Florida, a couple of weeks after Super Bowl LIV. Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery and Ford has been rehabbing in Alabama since.
“We were spot-on with the injury as far as diagnosing it in training camp,” Ford said. “I had a severe case of tendinitis. … With my position, that’s a blown tire. I feel great right now. I’m able to actually explode off of this knee. Thinking back on it, I can’t believe I played a whole season on it, and we knew at the end of the day what we had to do. It had to be surgical, but I didn’t want to miss the season. We had too much going on. I didn’t want to miss that. It’s in the bag now, though, I’m confident in that.”
Asked what the timeline was on his rehab, Ford demurred, noting that because the tendinitis has been a chronic issue, it’s hard to determine when or if it will return. And because the coronavirus pandemic has forced the offseason to become exclusively virtual, Ford hasn’t had much of a chance to test his knee in football situations.
“Anytime you are dealing with a chronic issue, you are always on the clock,” Ford said. “So if I’m able to play, I’m going to play. As of right now, I’m just getting as healthy as I can. … I know exactly what I felt like last year, [and] doing the things that I’m doing now, it’s like night and day. We’ll just play it by ear once everything gets going. We haven’t really had an offseason, no one has really been in competition, so it’s just really hard to measure where you’re at. So we are going to take it one day at a time and just keep getting this thing as strong as we can possibly get it so we can sack some quarterbacks.”
Previously, Ford has said the knee (and corresponding quadriceps issue) plagued him for many of his previous six seasons in the NFL — perhaps never more so than last season, his first in San Francisco.
In March 2019, The 49ers sent a 2020 second-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs for Ford, whom they promptly signed to a five-year, $85 million contract. With Ford in place as their designated speed rusher off the edge and No. 2 overall pick Nick Bosa providing a strong bookend on the other side, the Niners envisioned a dominant pass rush.
That mostly was the case. During the regular season, the Niners had 24 sacks on 164 snaps when Bosa and Ford were on the field together. They had 24 sacks on 801 snaps on all other plays.
Ford had 6.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in 11 regular-season games, adding one sacks in three postseason contests. But when Ford was available to play, he was limited to an average of 21.9 snaps per game.
As the Niners surged to a 13-3 record and an NFC championship, Ford declined to have the knee worked on so he could attempt to contribute. Still, he said the inability to stay on the field was frustrating.
Before the season finale against Seattle with the No. 1 seed in the NFC on the line for the Niners, Ford had reinjured the hamstring that had kept him out for most of December, but he offered to play, even if meant playing the role of decoy.
Instead, the Niners continued to rest him in hopes that he’d be more available for a postseason run.
“It was so tough,” Ford said. “When the stage is that big and the stakes are that high, big-time players come out in those type of games, and the fact that I was missing those opportunities, it definitely hurt.
“But we sat down as a training staff … and we were all on the same page with, ‘We’ve got one shot to do this right, because we are definitely going to be in the postseason.’ I had to forget about how I felt and just move forward. It was tough, but it was just what we had to do so I could be available for the Vikings [in the divisional playoffs] and the Super Bowl and all that.”
Ford hopes that the surgery will give him a chance to play a more prominent role on a defensive line that has become the focal point for the team. With defensive tackle DeForest Buckner traded to the Indianapolis Colts, Ford will be expected to replace some of that production, even though he plays a different spot on the line.
Before the knee slowed him early last season, Ford said the game was coming to him a bit easier, which he hopes will help if his health holds up.
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“I was able to see a lot more, I was a lot more confident, I just wasn’t able to stay out on the field,” Ford said. “So, alleviating that [knee] problem is definitely going to put me in an advantageous situation this year. I’m trying to rack up as many sacks and [tackles for loss] as I can and help our team get back to the Super Bowl.”
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