To date, the finest game in the two-year career of linebacker Dee Ford, the Kansas City Chiefs first-round draft pick in 2014, came against the San Diego Chargers last December.
Ford recorded a team-high 7 tackles, 3 sacks and 3 passes defensed in the game, and on San Diego's final drive, he stopped running back Danny Woodhead from making a reception on a Philip Rivers pass in the back of the end zone. It was a key play in a game that came down to the final minute.
The Chiefs ultimately defeated the Chargers, 10-3, for their seventh win in a row, and Ford played extremely well. But during his final three regular season games, he was held to just 5 tackles and 1 sack, and then just 6 tackles with no sacks in Kansas City's two-game playoff appearance.
Recalling the end of last season, Ford said he hasn't forgotten about what happened after his career game, and in 2016, he has plans to make that kind of production a regular thing.
"Consistency," he said when asked about his expectations for the upcoming campaign. "I think anybody can have a great game, but what separates the great players from the good players is doing it every week, and now I have an opportunity to do that. Consistency."
This season, the Chiefs will need him to be that.
The team's two staples on the outside for the past five seasons have been Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, but what happens this season remains to be seen. Hali, who hasn't practiced at all during OTAs, has already spoken about how he could have a limited role, and the timetable for Houston is very much unknown.
"Obviously, we'd love to have all the pieces together, but that's not the case," Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. "What it does right now is it give some other guys some opportunities to see where they're at and it gives them a lot of reps."
With Hali and Houston not practicing this OTAs, Ford has benefited from the additional time on the field. Thanks to that experience, he said he is improving his technique, and with it, the confidence he has in himself is growing.
"I'm not Tamba and I'm not Justin, but I'm learning with them," he said. "What I'm incorporating is what they do that I don't do … the first two steps, that's going to define your rush every down. That's a little thing that separates good from great is those first two steps, closing and hand movement. It sounds easy, but it's kind of like ballet."
Though Houston has yet to be seen on the field as he rehabs, Hali has occasionally been around to help the younger linebackers like Ford during OTAs.
Something Hali and Houston are known for is their mastery of hand placement, and Hali works with Ford and others on that in between drills.
"It's a blessing," Ford added. "I was taught these things in college, but now Tamba takes it to a new level and he teaches me how to make it second nature, so you're not thinking on the field. You have to focus on doing that and also not waste steps. It's tricky, but I can do it. It can be done."
A look at the linebackers during the Kansas City Chiefs offseason OTAs
Sutton also noted the impact the sheer presence of Hali is having on Ford.
"He's got a great mentor here in Tamba," Sutton said. "Tamba's working his tail off with these guys trying to get them, teach them what he's talking about and things that he does. As long as [Ford] keeps those ears open and listens, I can't imagine having a better role guy than Tamba working with him."
As far as physical improvement, Ford said he believes he is "growing into his body," coming into OTAs this year weighing between 250 and 255 pounds, five to 10 pounds heavier than his playing weight of 245 in 2015.
"He's come back stronger and I think he's got better stamina," linebackers coach Gary Gibbs said. "He's got better strength. It's just a matter of continuing to mature and develop his skill set and as he indicated to you yesterday, just be more consistent."
Across from Ford, five-year veteran and special teams wiz Frank Zombo could be just as important for the Chiefs defense early on.
"Frank's a good, solid player," Gibbs added. "He's helped us the last two or three years. He understands the scheming, he helped us inside, he can play outside. He's very good against the run game."
Due to injuries and new roles, the duo could see more playing time in 2016, and they'll be integral pieces to Gibbs' outside linebacker corps and Sutton's 3-4 defense. "Hopefully, you hope to get [injured players] back one by one," Sutton said. "Until that happens, the guys that are in those places, we always say, the team on the field is the team. They have to play like first-teamers, they have to perform like first-teamers, and if they do that, we'll be fine."