When the Jaguars originally signed defensive back Rudy Ford, the thought was that he’d come in and become one of the team’s core special teams players. After stints with the Arizona Cardinals and the Philadelphia Eagles over the past four years, that was what was expected of the former Auburn Tiger.
For Jaguars head coach Urban Meyer, that’s exactly what Ford had become, not only the team’s most valuable gunner but perhaps the best gunner that he’s ever seen. That much was made clear and has been repeated by Meyer since Aug. this year.
“Some guys at my old schools are going to get very upset with me when I say that, but he’s as good as I’ve ever seen,” Meyer said during the preseason. Given Meyer’s history with special teams throughout his stops in the collegiate ranks, that’s high praise from the team’s leader.
Ford’s role, however, has shifted over the past couple of weeks. Instead of being just a special teams player, he’s quickly transitioned into the team’s starting nickel cornerback, and perhaps one of the best defensive backs on the team due to his speed, versatility and play-making ability.
When speaking with BigCatCountry on Thursday, Ford understands how high of praise it was for Meyer to say he’s one of the best gunners he’s seen, but he also knows he wants to be known for more than just special teams, becoming a better defender and playing a larger role for the team in general.
“Just to have a coach like that in my corner, [it] means everything, you know what I mean?” Ford said when asked about Meyer’s comments. “You know, that’s why when I go out, I always give everything, everything I got, you know, I play 100.
“Also, I’m not just like a special teams guy, you know, I wanted to come and show, ‘hey, I can contribute to defense, I can play, I do prepare like a defensive starter. And that’s kind of like how I approach my game, and just coming every day, work.”
Over the past two weeks, Ford has shown some of that. With veteran corner Tre Herndon not quite performing the way the team would like following his preseason knee injury, Ford has been asked to step up to the plate.
Ford had never played more than 52 snaps in a single game on defense before Sunday against the Buffalo Bills. In total, prior to his stint in Jacksonville, Ford had played just 125 total defensive snaps.
Against Buffalo, Ford played 66 snaps, 99% of all of the defensive snaps on the day. Thus far this season for Jacksonville, Ford’s played 182 defensive snaps, including the 55 on Sunday and 36 a week prior against the Seattle Seahawks. His role has increased, exponentially.
Ford accounted for seven solo tackles, three pass breakups and an interception, the best defensive game of his career on Sunday. Still, Ford isn’t worried about the stats. That, he can worry about at the end of the season, and he will instead work on honing in on his craft, improving each and every day.
“I think still too, you know, the sky’s the limit,” Ford said.
“The more comfortable I get, the better my play is gonna get ... I‘m stacking. Just trying to keep preparing, keep trying to be a student of the game, continue to learn, just continue to come out here and improve on my skills. And just continue to try to show playmaking ability.”
Ford has embraced the opportunity that the Jaguars have given him and it was one of the primary reasons why he came to the organization, to begin with when he signed a 4-year contract worth $2,540,192 during free agency.
“I mean, I embrace everything. I never get too high, never get too low,” he said. “You know, what I mean? And, like I say, I just want to approach every single day [like] I haven’t done anything. Just keep improving.”
One thing that defensive coordinator Joe Cullen knows about Ford and his abilities on defense, though, is that the fifth-year veteran is fast, very fast. Ford’s 4.34 40-yard dash at his pro day in 2017 certainly showed up on tape.
“He played fast, he’s explosive. He might be our fastest guy on the team, and he’s gotten better and better,” Cullen said on Thursday when asked about Ford.
“[Defensive Backs Coach-Nickels] Joe Danna and [Secondary- Corners Coach] Coach [Tim] Walton and [Defensive Backs Coach-Safeties] Coach [Chris] Ash have done a great job with him. He’s played safety then we moved him to nickel, he’s a dime. He’s really feeling comfortable, and he played fast.”
Having a player that has versatility like Ford on the field can help the Jaguars get faster, and enable them to be more creative. On Sunday, the Jaguars brought Ford in with blitzes, while asking him to play a variety of coverages in man and zone via the slot corner position.
Ford’s efforts were first seen in practice, when Jacksonville initially gave him a bigger role on defense, often playing him as the team’s third safety during contests.
“You figure it out in practice because he’s fast, he’s a heat-seeking missile out there,” Cullen said. “Then, when he did have the opportunities in the games, he was really doing well in that role. Then it’s like, can we expand the role?”
That heat-seeking missile mentality that Ford has is something he just wants to keep building on, able to make the most of his opportunities by playing at 100% at all times.
“It’s like that lion's mentality, you know what I’m saying? You see something, go,” Ford said in a serious tone. “It’s just like be a force to be reckoned with out there. I’m not ever complete I’m just trying to build. I’m just trying to build each and every day.”
Working closely with nickels coach Joe Danna, Ford is just trying to learn the little things, the ins and outs of playing the position, getting better every day and just being a student of the game, Ford said.
Like everyone else, his teammates have also begun to notice his efforts on the field, and are excited for his future as a playmaker on the team’s defense. Jaguars DE/OLB Josh Allen noticed and was excited about Ford’s play following the game on Sunday.
“I feel like that’s another guy that flies around, that’s fast. When his opportunity was called, he made the plays,” Allen said in postgame.
“Man, the interception, batted balls, open-field tackling, oh, my gosh. I can’t wait to watch this film. Just so I can probably text him later, like damn, okay. This is the type of dude I’ve got, man, and definitely going to enjoy watching it.”
Certainly, the Jaguars’ coaches and fans will enjoy watching Ford for the rest of the season, too.