Green Bay Packers second-year interior defensive lineman Jonathan Ford has been able to show improved play at the start of training camp, an important aspect for the back end depth of this a young interior defensive line unit with a number of unknowns.
Prior to Thursday’s practice, Matt LaFleur was asked about the competition at center but took the answer in another direction, discussing the play so far of the interior defensive line. And in that answer, unprompted, he mentioned Ford and the progress he has made in Year 2.
"“I think our D-line has done a really nice job,” said LaFleur. “TJ has upped his game. Ford has upped his game. So whoever is at that spot, it’s been a challenge. Our defense has done some nice things schematically that’s presenting some challenges for the offense. They’ve been tough to block if I’m being honest with you.”"
Despite a strong push last preseason from Jack Heflin and Chris Slayton, the Packers rostered Jonathan Ford, a seventh-round pick that year, for all of 2022. However, he would be a healthy scratch on gameday each week.
Listed at 6’5″ – 338 pounds, Ford’s role in this Packers defense would be as a secondary nose tackle option to TJ Slaton, likely seeing most of his snaps come during obvious running situations, in a small rotational role.
As Brian Gutekunst said prior to training camp starting, the Packers have plenty of pass rush options along the interior defensive line, but success for this defense begins with stopping the run.
A stat from last season that encapsulates well the Packers’ performance against the run was their performance on third downs. Green Bay had the eighth-best third-down defense in football in 2022 but they also faced the fewest third-downs per game.
So how does this tie to the run game? Well, Green Bay was effective on third downs because they were able to put offenses in third-and-long situations, which often begins with slowing the run on early downs, then allowing the pass rush and secondary to play more aggressively when the offense is dealing with predictable passing scenarios.
But the issue was that teams frequently didn’t make it to third downs because they moved the chains before then. When defenses are facing regular second-and-short situations, it opens up the playbook for the offense, allowing them to dictate things while the defense is often on its heels.
This need to be better against the run, along with not knowing who outside of Kenny Clark and Slaton are going to regularly contribute in that capacity, is going to be Ford’s path to making the final roster, and Green Bay keeping a sixth interior defender on the roster.
It’s good news for the Packers interior defensive line unit and defense as a whole, that Ford has appeared to be taking a step forward early on in training camp. But as is the case for any young or inexperienced player, it’s about consistency, and building upon each day’s performance.
"“The sole focus each and every time you go out there is to try to get better each and every day in everything they do. In order to do that, you have to give max effort, you got to be deliberate about what you’re doing. Know the ins and outs, the details, the why of everything we are asking these guys to do.”"