ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs selected an outside linebacker in the second round in each of the past two drafts, sending a rather direct message to one of their veteran starters, Dee Ford.
It's time for Ford to deliver like the first-round draft pick he was in 2014. That's something he hasn't done other than a brilliant nine-game stretch to start the 2016 season, one in which he registered a league-high 10 sacks.
The message was received.
"I see [this season] as an opportunity to bring everything together," said Ford, who has only 7.5 sacks in his other 42 career games. "Everyone's seen flashes of what I can do. This is the opportunity to really [show it] for 16 games. In order to be a great player you have to be consistent. You can't just be good [like 2016 in] those first 10 games or so before I got hurt. Everybody was like, 'That's the guy we expected,' and then I got hurt. ... This is the time to put it all together."
This would be a good time for Ford, who is heading into the final season of the contract he signed as a rookie and could cash in with a big 2018 season.
It would also come at an opportune time for the Chiefs, who after rebuilding their secondary during the offseason are desperate for an improved pass rush. Much depends in that regard on Ford. The Chiefs also have Justin Houston as an edge rusher but much of their problem has been the lack of a consistently productive player on the other side.
"To get where we ultimately want to get to and that's Atlanta and the Super Bowl, you have to have your pass-rushers play at a high level and it's not just one of them," general manager Brett Veach said. "That's two of them, so we're going to need Dee. If he isn't operating on all cylinders, that doesn't mean other guys can't step up, but it will be a lot more difficult for us. He makes our ability to get where we want to go a heck of a lot easier."
The Chiefs drafted potential replacements for Ford in Breeland Speaks in the second round this year and Tanoh Kpassagnon in the second round in 2017. Because of that, Ford won't be a priority for the Chiefs to re-sign if he doesn't have a big season.
That makes this a put-up-or-shut-up season for Ford.
"It's not a secret," Veach said. "He was a first-round pick and he's shown some flashes. Obviously the last couple of years were affected by injury and it's common knowledge he's going to be a free agent. We're excited to have him in the mindset where he wants to show that he is able to put it all together."
Ford's first couple of seasons with the Chiefs were mostly injury-free but he spent much of those years adjusting to the NFL game. He got off to the fast start in 2016 but has been bothered by hamstring and back injuries ever since.
He had offseason back surgery and was held out of some work in offseason practices but has been a regular in the lineup at training camp at Missouri Western State University.
Speaks and Kpassagnon will also get some playing time this season. The Chiefs are particularly encouraged by what they've seen at camp from Speaks, a player they traded up to get in the second round.
"From what we've seen in [offseason practice] and from what we've seen out here in this short period, I think the guy can go in and play," defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "From a coverage standpoint, he has some natural ability there, just understanding what's happening. Then of course I think he can rush. He's a valuable rush guy because he can rush either inside or outside. He gives us some flexibility there."
How much Speaks will play when the regular season begins depends on how much progress he makes throughout camp and the preseason.
"When you're young, you might have one move that's your favorite move," coach Andy Reid said. "In the NFL, they take that away from you. How are you going to counter that? Are you going to work on those things that help counter that move and add to the repertoire that you can throw at the offensive lineman?"
Speaks has spent time in camp trying to develop more to throw at opposing linemen in terms of pass-rush moves. He's gone against starting tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher in one-on-one pass-rush drills at camp.
"Those drills are good because you get to hone in on those moves that you'd like to try," Speaks said. "I feel like it's been some good battles, back and forth, win some and lose some. I like to go against the best."