What makes popular Poona Ford smile, why he’s become indispensable to Seahawks’ defense
Poona Ford’s best move this Seahawks summer hasn’t been one of his relentless runs across the field to track down a ball carrier.
It’s not been blowing through the middle of the line again to ruin another play.
To him, that’s no big deal.
“They always say, ‘We coach effort here first,’” Ford said.
No, his favorite move so far this camp has been scooping up Kinzley, who turned 9 months old this week. She was in her black-and-white sun dress with the orange bow around the waist. Dad walked off the field immediately after a recent practice carrying his daughter in the crook of his huge left arm. Their smiles were as large as the 310-pound Ford.
Most around the team know the versatile, ultra-popular defensive tackle as being one of the quietest Seahawks.
Yet mention Kinzley, and Ford becomes downright effervescent.
“In the morning, I feel her hand and she’ll touch me. Then she’ll jump up and down,” Ford, 26, said.
He had another big grin.
It’s the best way to wake up at 6:30 every morning.
The rest of his days aren’t bad, either.
Kaylon “Poona” Ford, nicknamed by great grandmother on his dad’s side, who said the then-littler Ford was her “Pooh Bear,” has gone from undrafted rookie because he was supposedly too short for the NFL to a Seahawks mainstay.
He’s such a mainstay, he’s playing too much in the preseason. More than he likely expected he would while on a $12 million contract while carrying the team’s highest salary-cap charge for this year ($10,075,000).
With six starters not playing, Ford stayed in for almost the entire first half of Seattle’s opening preseason game Saturday at Pittsburgh. He was lined up at end outside nose tackle Bryan Mone in the Seahawks’ new 3-4 scheme, for 21 snaps. Meanwhile Ford’s usual partner on the defensive line, Al Woods, took warm-ups in full uniform but did not play.
“Just our numbers were not there,” coach Pete Carroll said of the defensive-line depth against the Steelers. “He just had to suck it up and play for us (Saturday). We did not want him to have to play that much. But that’s the way it wound up.”
It’s not like Ford is used to special treatment or getting NFL days off. He signed with Seattle the hard way in 2018, as a bottom-run rookie free agent from the University of Texas.
“I was always told I was too short,” the 5-foot-11 Ford has said, repeatedly.
That was months after he was named the Big 12 defensive lineman of the year.
“As long as I’m able to make plays, I don’t see what the issue is,” Ford said, almost in deadpan.
A lot of what Ford says is in deadpan.
“Quietly, he has been a fantastic player for us,” Carroll said. “He’s been kind of quiet. He’s the most quiet guy in the world, anyway, but it’s come along with the notoriety.
“We love the guy.”
Ford has basically done for the Seahawks what he did at Hilton Head Island High School in his native South Carolina and at Texas. He’s played four, relentless seasons for Seattle, the last three as a full-time starter in the center of the defensive line. He’s started 47 of a possible 48 regular-season games the last three seasons.
He’s run from his nose-tackle and B-gap spots over and off the center to each sideline, sometimes 30 yards, to tackle running backs on sweeps and wide receivers on screen passes. He’s pass rushed into the offensive backfield, then, on the same play, turned and sprinted 15 yards down the field into Seattle’s secondary to tackle tight ends on pass receptions.
He usually just wants it more than anybody else.
His reward for his relentlessness? Life-changing money. That was on the two-year contract he signed in the spring of 2021. He’s set to earn a base salary of $7.9 million this year. That’s more than 10 times what Ford earned in 2020, $750,000, before the new contract.
“No, I haven’t been surprised,” he said. “’I’ve always had high expectations, with a high standard that I set for myself. I’ve had that since I was young, playing as a little kid. I’ve just kept that same mentality growing up, in high school and college, and even today.”
He’s become indispensable to Carroll’s way of playing defense. He’s the run-stopper who keeps offensive linemen off linebackers — and gets to the quarterback, too.
That’s been in a 4-3 scheme, inside with fellow tackles Woods and Mone.
That’s changing. Carroll promoted line coach Clint Hurtt to replace fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. and install more of a 3-4 system. That requires more speed and versatility from the defensive linemen in various roles. In training camp, Ford has been flanking nose tackle Woods, as more of a hybrid tackle-end, further outside.
He’s excited by the change.
“I feel like this defensive is set up around D-linemen,” he said. “It’s set up for us to make as many plays as possible.
Ford is moving around more this year, sometimes over the center as a nose tackle and other times between the guard and center in the A gap or the guard and tackle in the B gap. That versatility is what keeps Ford on the field on running and passing downs. He’s set career highs for snaps played in the each of the last two seasons, 58% up to 63% last season.
About to get paid?
Now Ford is next in line to get another huge payday.
The Seahawks re-signed Bryan Mone, another undrafted rookie defensive tackle who’s made it with Seattle a year after Ford entered the league. In June Mone, 26 like Ford, got a two-year, $12 million deal.
Ford’s deal expires after this coming season. He says he’s not thinking about that. Not yet.
“Right now, I’m just worried about the season and winning games, for real,” he said. “The rest will take care of itself. That’s how I look at it.”
Carroll sure makes it sound as if the Seahawks want to keep him beyond 2022.
“He can do a lot of things. He can play all of the spots up front,” Carroll said. “When we need to load it up in the running game, he can do it. If we need to put him on the edge, he can do it. He can play all of the spots, so he has great instincts and savvy.
“He’s been a wonderful player for us. So he’s doing fine. He’s doing great right now.”
The native Southerner has grown to love Seattle. He likes the variety of recreation and nature, and what he calls a smaller-town feel within a bigger city.
“It’s just a really good vibe here overall, do you feel me?” he said.
So, yes, if he has his way he’s going to re-sign with the Seahawks in the coming months. For the coming decade.
“Of course,” Ford said, smiling yet again.
“I’d like to retire a Seahawk.”