RENTON — Seahawks scouts did a good job, coach Pete Carroll says, setting “their sights’’ on Poona Ford from the beginning of his college career at Texas, which led to Ford signing with Seattle in the spring of 2018 as an undrafted free agent.
Carroll said it in all seriousness.
But some might joke that it was getting an eye on Ford that has been the problem for so many football observers during his career.
At just 5 feet 11, Ford is three inches shorter than any other defensive lineman on Seattle’s roster and taller than only five other players of any type — all kickers, running backs or receivers.
Concerns over his height helped Ford go undrafted and become available for Seattle to sign. He picked the Seahawks largely because he felt they had shown the most interest in him before the draft — they were the only team to bring him in for a predraft visit.
“He’s real squatty,’’ said guard D.J. Fluker with a laugh.
Saturday, though, Ford made sure everyone could see him when he took off running down the field with a Geno Smith pass that deflected off the cross bar and into his hands near the end of the Seahawks’ annual “mock game.”
Ford, who had been denied a chance at a touchdown earlier in the day when a fumble he recovered had been blown dead, decided this time he was going to get his moment in the sun no matter what — much to the delight of the 4,500 or so at Pop Keeney Stadium in Bothell, as well as his teammates.
“I caught it and I started to run,’’ he said. “I knew it was dead but I thought I’d have a little fun.’’
Ford’s almost 100-yard run weaving through the traffic — no one actually was trying to tackle him — was a light moment breaking up the drudgery of camp. Carroll laughed later that it reminded him that Ford had been a fullback in high school.
More pivotal is how he has played the rest of training camp, working throughout as the starting nose guard, counted on to help provide stability up the middle with tackle Jarran Reed suspended for the first six games of the season.
Ford’s emergence late last season convinced the team he could be a starter. His play in camp has only further solidified that point, compelling center Justin Britt last week to lavish about the highest praise possible.
“I think Poona, he has a chance to end up being one of the best nose tackles that could have played,’’ Britt said. “He’s got that God-given leverage and knows how to use it. He knows how to control everything with his size and whatnot. He’s quick. He’s great with his hands. I don’t know a lot of people that would be better to practice against than Poona Ford to get me ready for Sundays.’’
Asked about that comment Monday, Ford called it “humbling.’’
But when it comes to his goals for this season he’s not, well, selling himself short.
Ford played mostly in a reserve role last season, usually on running downs. But he got one start late in the year in a defeat at San Francisco in which he had three tackles for loss, and he said he thinks he’s ready to show he can be an every-down player.
“I try not to listen to what everybody says about me being a run-only guy,’’ he said. “I know what my ability is and what I can bring to the table and that I can rush (the passer).’’
Carroll on Saturday said that’s still to be determined.
“Well, he’s a developing pass rusher,’’ Carroll said. ”We are really looking for his play in the running game. (But) we are not counting him out (in being able to rush the passer).’’
Carroll points to Ford’s college production and his Big 12 Defensive Lineman of the Year award in his senior season at Texas as the first thing that caught the team’s eye.
“You can’t do better than that,’’ Carroll said.
What the team also saw was an arm length that belied his height and made the Seahawks think he could play a lot bigger than he stands.
Ford was measured with an arm length of 32¾ inches before the draft, with a wingspan of just more than 80 inches.
By comparison, former University of Washington standout tackle Vita Vea — who was picked No. 12 overall in that same draft — has an arm length shorter than Ford at 32 5/8, despite standing 4 inches taller.
Ford and many with the Seahawks also think his height is an advantage in how quickly and easily he can get low and establish his base.
“If he bends down, it’s almost impossible to get lower than him,’’ said the 6-foot-6 Britt. “Like I said, he understands that, and he understands that that’s his strength.’’
Said Ford: “It helps a lot because all you really need to do is run your feet and just lock him out.’’
Carroll compares Ford to Jurrell Casey, a 6-foot-1, 305-pounder who played for Carroll at USC and has made the Pro Bowl the past four seasons with the Tennessee Titans as a defensive tackle.
“Very similar stature and style, and hopefully someday we will recognize Poona as doing as good,’’ Carroll said.
Ford promises that day will come soon.
“I know that was my role last year to be a run-stopper guy, a first- and second-down guy,’’ he said. “But now I’m looking forward to perhaps a bigger role I could be taking on this season and it should be a lot of fun.’’