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If we distill down the complicated nuances of building a professional football roster, it may look something like this:

  • Identify where the roster lacks talent or depth.
  • Meet with a potential player to fill the void.
  • Offer a hefty paycheck.
  • Sign said player; pose for a photo giving the new player a laurel and hearty handshake.
  • See the improvements in September.

When stripped down to its bare essentials, it appears as if anyone with a Twitter handle, and an opinion could find success as a professional football general manager.

It does feel a bit like the new regime at 4949 Centennial Boulevard has made building a championship roster a lot more difficult than necessary.

Rather than find legitimate talent to fill the roster gaps, general manager John Lynch and head coach Kyle Shanahan continued to sign average players and hope for the best. This strategy has handicapped the team, rather than push the 49ers into the top half of the NFL.

Last season, the team needed an edge rusher, so the 49ers signed defensive lineman Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year deal on March 15, 2018.

After heaping praise on Attaochu during the offseason and training camp, the team released him at the end of the preseason.

Attaochu may not have made a difference, but the 49ers played the 2018 season without a real threat from the edge position.

Lynch and Shanahan worked through their growing pains and finally decided to spend capital on two impact defensive players. A few weeks ago, the 49ers signed linebacker Kwon Alexander and defensive end Dee Ford.

Ford entered the NFL in 2014, and has racked up 36 quarterback sacks, 122 hurries, 93 run stops, and 9 forced fumbles. He had a 91.1 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus in 2018.

Also entering the NFL in 2014 was former 49er defensive end Cassius Marsh. Throughout the same period, Marsh has 13 sacks, 76 hurries, 63 run stops, and 5 forced fumbles. He ended the 2018 season with a 62.3 pass rush grade from Pro Football Focus.

If you take nothing else from my commentary and breakdown, merely look at those stats, and you'll see what the 49ers were missing last season. They've upgraded by nearly 30 points at one position.

The 49ers will enter training camp with a genuine edge defender, someone who can control the end of the line, with strength, speed, and violence.

I reviewed Ford's career-best game, a Week 8 performance against Denver in 2018. That afternoon, Ford had four solo tackles, one assist, three quarterback sacks, five hurries, and two forced fumbles.

1st Quarter – 3rd and 5 at the DEN 30 (14:22)

I could have reviewed this single play and written two thousand words as to why the 49ers finally have a capable edge defender. Ford made it into the backfield and closed on the running back's depth nearly before quarterback Case Keenum handed off the ball.

Ford lined up in the slot and did not tip his blitz, which made me wonder if Denver failed to account for him on the play.

It wouldn't have mattered because Ford beat every Bronco off the football. I watched the play frame-by-frame, and he was the only Chief defender in sync with the snap. He was a half-step ahead of Denver's offensive line, which helped him blow past the tackle and end parallel to the running back.

Gaining depth is critical for players on both sides of the line of scrimmage. For example, running backs need depth to slow themselves before hitting a designated hole, and a defensive back can benefit by gaining a little depth on his backpedal.

In this instance, Ford's speed nullified the back's depth and made him the only Chief capable of making a stop.

Here's a view of the running lane from behind the defense. Ford caught the back from behind, holding the play to five yards.

2nd Quarter – 3rd and 8 at the KC 49 (6:11)

Years ago, the 49ers' defense was known for its violence. Stand in the ghost of Candlestick and with the right ears, you can hear the Donte Whitner's hit on Pierre Thomas from the 2011 NFC Divisional playoff game.

Somewhere, the 49ers' defense lost its savageness. Indeed, there have been moments of rage, but it's been a missing element for the last two seasons. The 'all gas no brake' mantra sounds more like an unfulfilled sales pitch than how the 49ers perform on Sunday.

Ford is what the team needs to bring back the brutal edge.

Ford made his first sack and forced fumble look easy. He shot across the line of scrimmage with such speed and ease, putting right tackle Billy Turner on skates.

The tenacity displayed by Ford is what made the play unique. He wanted the play more than Turner wanted to make the block. Again, we see the 49ers' defense show the same hunger, but it's irregular.

Linebacker Fred Warner plays with this type of attitude. However, the team needs to feed on the play of others, and Warner can't be the only defender who plays with controlled anger. Both Ford and Alexander will be welcome additions this fall.

3rd Quarter – 1st and 10 at the KC 30 (1:54)

Sometimes, an edge defender doesn't need to get a sack or a tackle for loss; sometimes, it's his job not to give any ground and force the quarterback or ball carrier to make the wrong decision.

There were plenty of instances last season when a 49er edge defender – Marsh, Ronald Blair or Solomon Thomas – lacked the strength to set the edge of the defense correctly.

There was nothing magical about this particular play. The Chiefs' defense wasn't doing anything exotic, and Ford didn't put a vicious spin move on the tight end to de-cleat the quarterback.

Ford pushed the tight end back enough to force the running back to cut back inside and into a muddy mess. Despite the lack of push from the defensive tackle, Chiefs' nose tackle Xavier Williams helped save the day by cutting off any inside escape route.

With nowhere to go, Ford muscled his way back inside to help make the stop.

4th Quarter – 3rd and 9 at the KC 39 (12:22)

Ford's second sack of the game came early in the 4th quarter, and once again shows the needed traits he brings to the 49ers – speed, strength and a continued fight to make a sack.

The Chiefs rushed three defenders, dropping two linebackers into coverage. Both defensive tackles looped to their right, and Ford rushed in from a very wide-9 technique. Ford's positioning allowed him to gain plenty of speed to embarrass left tackle Garett Bolles.

Bolles was never in a position to make any kind of quality block on Ford, so Bolles did what any desperate offensive lineman would do: he held Ford around the neck to try and slow him down.

But holding stops mortal edge defenders, and Ford is not a mortal. He fought through the hold with an excellent rip and kept his outside shoulder free. It was another textbook maneuver.

Ford continued his pursuit of Keenum, and Bolles ended up knocking Ford into his quarterback. What was impressive was Ford's awareness to see the ball in Keenum's hand and knock it loose.

Ford tallied his last sack with 7:10 left in the game. The Chiefs rushed four men and still forced Keenum to move around in the pocket. The secondary had everyone covered up, and Ford was able to take down Keenum.

I noted that Ford played over 60 snaps on the left side of the defense against Denver while lining up on the right side five times. Last season, Ford played over 1,100 total snaps, with over 700 on the left side and just over 400 on the right.

In reality, it doesn't matter if the 49ers use Ford as a LEO or REO; these are terms fans must divorce themselves from. Instead, rejoice that the 49ers finally have a capable edge defender to keep opposing quarterbacks on the run.

All photos courtesy of
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference unless noted.
  • Bret Rumbeck
  • Written by:
    Bret Rumbeck has been writing about the 49ers since 2017 for 49ers Webzone and 49ers Hub. He is a Turlock, CA native, and has worked for two members of the US House of Representatives and one US Senator. When not breaking down game film, Bret spends his time seeking out various forms of heavy metal. Feel free to follow him or direct inquiries to @brumbeck.