Full offseason with Packers provides launching pad for Rudy Ford

GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 17: Rudy Ford #20 of the Green Bay Packers gets set against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau on November 17, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images)
GREEN BAY, WI - NOVEMBER 17: Rudy Ford #20 of the Green Bay Packers gets set against the Tennessee Titans at Lambeau on November 17, 2022 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Getty Images) /

All eyes are going to be on the safety position for the Green Bay Packers this summer, specifically, the battle for the starting job next to Darnell Savage. With all the additions made this offseason, this room has become quite crowded, but it’s Rudy Ford who could be the front-runner for that role as he enters his second season with Joe Barry.

Ford was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars in late August of last season before being claimed by the Packers. With Savage and Adrian Amos cemented as the starting safeties at that time, along with Ford joining the team so close to the regular season beginning, initially, defense was not the primary reason he was brought in. Rather, he was there to be a special teams contributor.

With 4.4 speed, Ford arrived to Green Bay as one of the best gunners in football, and his impact was felt on the punt team almost immediately. In the Packers’ Week 3 win against Tampa Bay, Ford forced three fair catches in that game alone, in a low scoring matchup where field position was at a premium.

However, with poor tackling and coverage breakdowns happening all too often at the safety position throughout the season, Ford was put into a starting role in Week 10, and for the most part, he stayed on the field for the remainder of the season.

"“Last year was tough on Rudy because he came in so late, and that’s part of the NFL,” said Packers defensive backs coach Ryan Downard on Wednesday. “So we got him up to speed as fast as we could, but I can’t wait to see his progression now that he has a full offseason.”"

Despite only being in the Joe Barry defense for just over two months at that point, Ford provided some much-needed stability to the position. He was a willing run defender and a capable tackler. Ford finished the 2022 season ranked 19th among all safeties in PFF’s run-stop rate metric.

He was also frequently positioned correctly and where he needed to be–a feat that sounds simple but was lacking for Green Bay at the position. This resulted in Ford being around the football and in a position to make plays, allowing him to come away with three interceptions and a fumble recovery.

"He’s got real speed, OK? I saw that on the field,” said Downer. “I saw that in practice, he’s got the ability to tackle and track ballcarriers, which is a premium.”"

Outside of Savage, in terms of playing time on this Packers’ defense, Ford enters 2023 as the second-most experienced safety on the Green Bay roster. Along with Ford, the likely challengers for that playing time at the position are Jonathan Owns, Tarvarius Moore, and Anthony Johnson.

Consistency, more than playmaking, will be a key factor in determining who will be playing alongside Savage this year. Ford provided that a season ago, and now with that experience and an upcoming full offseason in Barry’s system, the opportunity for him to take a leap forward and seize those first-team snaps is present.

"“He’s been here every single day,” added Downard. “He comes and seeks me out to meet extra, and so we’ve been watching film, and just to get him to learn and really nail down the details of each technique. So I think he’s going to be way ahead of where he was last year. I talk to him (about), ‘Hey, you know the calls now, command the back end.’ That’s what we expect from our safeties, and he’s done a good job. He’s raised his voice, not only on the practice field but in the meeting rooms in terms of, ‘Hey, let’s make the calls here.’”"