BY Art Thiel 05:09PM 08/21/2019

Thiel: Poona Ford’s chip is as thick as he is

Even the Seahawks didn’t quite recognize what they had in Poona Ford last season. Now they know he plays with the same fire as Angry Doug Baldwin.

Poona Ford was graded as the 10th-best interior defensive lineman in the NFL last season. / Mike Ritterbeck

Aside from the usual passel of injuries that afflict every NFL team in August, the Seahawks have had a mostly quiet preseason. No holdouts, no real fights, few starting position contests or strategy shifts, and no off-field dramas or orations like those from the provocateurs of yesteryear, such as Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman or Michael Bennett.

But there is one guy that is upholding a quirky tradition of the Pete Carroll years — the  undrafted misfit who comes to acclaim from just east of nowhere.

With the retirement of WR Doug Baldwin, the only undrafted free agent expected to start this season is DT Poona Ford. The chip on his shoulder is as thick, square and heavy as he is, vibrating perhaps even harder than Baldwin’s.

“I think about it every day,” Ford said after practice Wednesday. “I tell myself I got 254 guys I gotta be better than every day, which makes me do what I gotta do.”

The reference was to the number of college players annually drafted by the NFL. The Seahawks pride themselves in finding serviceable players from the tired, the poor, the huddled masses who are not among the chosen. Ford hates that he was among the unwashed.

Even though he was a big-time player on a big-time college team — defensive player of the year for Texas in the Big 12 Conference — he was 5-11 and 310 pounds, dimensions that are found in the NFL as often as they are on models working high-fashion runways.

Turned out he was right-sized in his rookie season of 2018 to disrupt the middle of most every opponent play, even though what he does well was sufficiently obscure that even the Seahawks missed it for too long.

“When we looked back on the season, we should have played him more,” Carroll said Wednesday. “He’s really an instinctive player. It took awhile to appreciate that.

“He’s unique, because of his stature and style. He uses his (arm length) so well, and has great quickness. He gave us indications; we saw it. In time, because he’s such an aware player, he’s going to know where the ball is going almost every snap.”

The ability flashed several times Saturday night in the Seahawks’ fake game in Minnesota, particularly halfway through the first quarter. The Vikings had a first down at their own 10-yard line when Ford shoved aside his blocker, dropped rookie running back Alexander Mattison for a one-yard loss and knocked the ball free.

The Seahawks recovered but were denied possession because officials ruled Mattison was down before he lost the ball. The call appeared wrong, but the impact was undeniable.

The play brought to mind perhaps the strongest player statement made in training camp, where skepticism is normally the custom regarding young players.

“Poona has a chance to end up being one of the best nose tackles that could have played,” said C Justin Britt, startling some heavy-lidded media scavengers. “He’s got that God-given leverage and knows how to use it. He knows how to control everything with his size. He’s quick. He’s great with his hands.

“I don’t know a lot of people that would be better to practice against than Poona Ford to get me ready for Sundays.”

Same sentiment came from teammate RG D.J. Fluker.

“Poona is a challenge — that’s a grown man right there,” said the 350-pound Fluker, laughing. “He’s a great dude. He’s real squatty.  He’s got good quickness, long arms, plays hard to the whistle. He showed up last year.

“He’s got an advantage. Shoot, if he was 6-4 coming on a bull rush, you’re kind of done.”

The evaluations are not just teammates blowing smoke.  Pro Football Focus looked at each of his 254 snaps the past season, in which he started only one game, and gave him a grade of 90.3, 10th among all interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

Ford’s quick development becomes more critical in light of the pending six-game suspension of his partner at tackle, Jarran Reed, busted by the NFL for an episode of domestic violence 27 months ago for which charged were never filed. The absence of Reed for the season’s first six regular-season games is a blow, because the D-line already was the Seahawks’ thinnest unit.

Ford calls his style of play “vertical,” an odd term for someone unlikely to find a lot of daylight under his cleats. But it makes more sense to someone who plays so low that grass looks like it’s up.

“By playing vertical, I knock straight back whoever blocks me, to reset the line of scrimmage,” he said. “The chest down is my strike zone. I stay lower than he is, and keep my feet moving at a rapid pace, so I don’t get tripped up.”

Given all the praise he’s drawing, he could get tripped up in a more psychological way.

“It feels good,” he said. “But I still got 16 games to prove myself, to create an image of who Poona Ford is.”

The Seahawks, belatedly, get the picture. Time for the rest of the NFL.


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YourThoughts

  • Alan Harrison

    “His 10.5 sacks were second on the team behind the traded Frank Clark.”? Isn’t that Reed? That notwithstanding, great article on another perfect Seahawk – the home of the Rodney Dangerfields of pro sports.

    • art thiel

      Yes, it was Reed. Fixed. Thanks.

  • coug73

    Poona Ford, love his name and love his game.

    • art thiel

      It is truly remarkable how annoying he is to O-linemen.

      • coug73

        Poona, is like trying to stop a metal bouy ball, heavy, round, and low to the ground rolling down hill.

  • DJ

    Thanks Art! Great story about a most deserving young man.
    Go Poona! Go Hawks!

    • art thiel

      He may work his way into a fan favorite.

  • tor5

    Great to hear some good news about the DL. Any comparison to Baldwin is high praise indeed. Gotta love the undrafted guys who are pissed off.

    • art thiel

      UDFA was the less appreciated acronym of the Seahawks’ rise.

  • Mark Stovall

    Great write up about a tremendous human being, and one of the hardest working players you’ll ever see.

    Big Poona was a quiet, steady presence, and a huge fan favorite all four of his years at Texas. I was happy to see the Seahawks get another great Longhorns player, albeit at a steal as an UDFA. Hook ‘Em, Poona!

    • art thiel

      You obviously followed him closely. What have you heard about his work ethic?

      • Mark Stovall

        Yes, I’ve followed Poona since he changed his commitment from Louisville to Texas after Charlie Strong was hired. He was a 3 star recruit from South Carolina, and mostly unknown to Texas fans.

        He went straight to work, busting his rear as soon as he arrived in Austin, and quickly worked himself into the two-deep his freshman year. So, yeah, his work ethic is second to none, and he is a great teammate and locker room guy as well. Y’all got a good one.

        • Archangelo Spumoni

          Mr. Stovall
          Thanks for sharing on Poona and we know that Coach Strong stepped into a nasty situation at Tejas, but I really enjoyed and respected Strong’s approach. Strong helps form grown men instead of just discardable players and I will always have immense respect for him. I am looking for the clichéd gain between rookie and 2nd year from Poona.
          Strong’s rules when he went to Tejas:

          1. Players will attend all of their classes and sit in the front two rows. GAs, academic folks, position coaches will be checking.
          2. No headphones in class. No texting. Sit up. Take notes.
          3. If a player misses class, he runs. If he misses two classes, his entire position runs. If he misses three, the position coach runs. The position coaches don’t like running.
          4. No earrings in the football building. No drugs. No guns. Treat women with respect.
          5. Players may not live off campus, unless they’re a senior who makes certain academic standards. The University will buy out the leases for every player currently living off campus and put them in the athletic dorm.
          6. The team will live together, eat together, suffer together, and hang together. They will become a team and impose accountability on each other. Cliques are over.
          7. There’s no time for a rebuild. “I don’t have time for that.” The expectation is that Tejas wins now.
          8. Players will quickly learn that they would rather practice than milk a minor injury.
          9. The focus is on winning and graduating. Anything extraneous to that is a distraction and will be stamped out.

          This set o’ rules met with some push-back and some players found themselves out the door.