Tennessee Titans defensive line coach Jim Washburn admits he really didn’t know what Jacob Ford might contribute this season at defensive end.
How could he? Ford, a sixth-round project pick in 2007 from Central Arkansas, tore an Achilles tendon in his left foot very early in training camp last year and basically went straight from the draft board to the trainers’ room, barely seeing the practice field, let alone being available for any game action.
In fact, even for the brief time Ford was available last year, he struggled, thanks to a viral infection that caused him to lose nearly 20 pounds before training camp opened.
“I came back [for camp] I was 235, so before I was 252,” Ford said.
But as Ford has made his way back onto the field for the Titans’ organized team activities this spring, he is giving them something to look forward to as training camp approaches. He is even drawing strong reviews from Washburn, who is often reluctant to praise his own players publicly, especially young ones.
“If somebody asked me who the most surprising player we had out here was, I’d say Jacob,” Washburn said. “He’s quick and he’s tough. I just didn’t know because he was hurt. He’s tough, he’s quick and he’s fast and he’s instinctive.
“If you tell him something, you don’t have to tell him but once. He’s smart. He gets it. I really like him. He’s going to be a really good player for us.”
Ford thinks back to the injury, and says the recovery process has given him a different perspective and new appreciation for not just football, but quality of life itself. Two months of splitting time in a wheelchair and on crutches will do that.
“Just looking and not even being able to walk, it gave me an appreciation just for that. I spent about two months on crutches,” Ford said. “[It’ll change your perspective] real quick. Everything that seemed so simple became so hard. You had to just keep working and working and working just to get a little bit back day by day.”
The payoff for Ford began in the offseason as he added back the weight he had lost from the viral infection last year, and even bulked up a bit more.
“He basically just got in the weight room and just got a lot stronger. He was 250 in college, and like 230 when he came in because he was sick,” Washburn said. “I’m not saying that’s why he got hurt, but he wasn’t himself when he came in. He wasn’t even close. We’re seeing him for the first time really.”
Ford’s recovery from the injury has gone ahead of schedule as he says he is close to 100 percent, even though he was told that it might take a full year to recover completely from the injury.
“I’m getting there,” Ford said. “I’m like 10 months out from surgery. It usually takes people 12 months to get back on the field, and I’m was out in nine-and-a-half months. But I’m real good.”
Ford was plenty active on the field in OTAs on Wednesday, as he has been throughout the offseason as the Titans search for quality depth behind starters Kyle Vanden Bosch and Jevon Kearse. With rookie William Hayes, veterans Bryce Fisher, Sean Conover and Dave Ball all on the roster, Ford will have plenty of competition.
Still, Ford is drawing attention in a positive way.
“He’s come on out there and he’s been very productive out there without pads every chance he can get,” Titans coach Jeff Fisher said.
The real test comes next month when the pads go on, but Washburn is confident Ford will pass the test.
“I know what the translation is going to be. I’m not worried about the translation, pads on or pads off,” Washburn said. “He’s got a long way to go because he hasn’t played, but I’m not worried about Jacob.”
For his part, Ford just wants to keep improving and stay healthy.
“I think I showed enough for them to draft me, but at the same time, I need to keep showing more and more improvement each day and more consistency I’m out there, so they can see that I’m growing as a player,” Ford said.
After all, being without football last year was a tough experience. It wasn’t his first time without the game. After his freshman year, he left the University of Memphis and worked mostly odd jobs for a couple of years before eventually going to junior college and finally Central Arkansas.
That circuitous route to the NFL, and losing his rookie year to injury, matured Ford more than most young players.
“I’ve really had football taken away from me twice. Once I took it away from myself, and then the injuries took it from me. So I think I’m more mature than most players would be,” Ford said.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Albert Haynesworth was referring to his ab muscles when he told reporters at a charity gathering Tuesday that he now has a six-pack.
Titans coach Jeff Fisher joked, however, Wednesday when asked about Haynesworth’s six pack.
“It’s in his cooler in the back of his car,” Fisher said with a smile.
INJURIES: The Titans are being cautious with cornerback Cortland Finnegan about his tight hamstring. Finnegan was again out of team drills, giving way to Eric King as the first-team defense took the practice field.
“You never want somebody to take reps in your place, … I would love to be out there now, but I really want to be smart about it all,” Finnegan said.
The Titans backed offensive guard Leroy Harris (knee) down Wednesday as well.
Guard Fernando Velasco (calf), tackle Daniel Loper (leg), receiver Roydell Williams (ankle) and safety Rocky Schwartz (calf) were all out of practice again Wednesday.