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Poona Ford on training with Cliff Avril, getting starstruck by Jadeveon Clowney, year-3 improvements and more

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Wild Card Round - Seattle Seahawks v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Steven Ryan/Getty Images

Playing sparingly as a rookie, Poona Ford quickly became a favorite of fans and of Pete Carroll, who expressed regret after 2018 for not getting him on the field more often. That changed in 2019, as Ford started 14 games and more than doubled his snaps.

I went rapid-fire with Poona Ford about his progression from his rookie season to now, getting the chance to play with fellow South Carolina product Jadeveon Clowney, training with Cliff Avril, and more.

I wanted to begin at the start of your career because it’s always been curious to me. You were great at Texas, turned a Shrine Game invitation into a Senior Bowl invitation the following week, and impressed at both, tested well, but still went undrafted. How frustrating was that process for you, but then on the flip side how did it push you forward in your rookie season?

Really, anything that happened was worth the sacrifice. I always kept leaning on the dream I had, I wanted to play in the NFL. That’s really what drove me.

After your rookie season, Pete Carroll said he wished you had played more. What did his belief in you do for your confidence and approach before 2019?

It was just, take it and run with it. Just take every opportunity and run with it.

Carroll had also said you were a very instinctive player, that you know where the ball is going most plays. What is it about your preparation that helps you to play on instincts so well?

It’s really film study. I’m starting to get to the next level of, “you have to watch film,” and that’s just what I learned. I see what I learned on film on the field and took my chances.

You make a lot of highlight-reel plays for a defensive tackle, whether it’s hitting Taysom Hill to send him flying or turning on a dime to tackle the ballcarrier against the Eagles. What’s the reaction like from the defensive line in the film room when those plays come on?

We all want to see each other win, so yeah everybody—every time a teammate makes a play, everybody is hyped for them.

One of the things that I think makes you such a great fit on the Seahawks is your ability to defend laterally, your balance and quickness are always on point, and that’s crucial against outside zone heavy teams like the 49ers, Rams, and Cardinals. How much does your style of play help you in those matchups?

I would say, really just my ability to be disruptive and not get knocked back, that’s what helps me on those plays. I can lock them (opposing linemen) out while they try to reach me and just come off the block and make a play. As far as against inside runs, it’s really more, you have to play really disciplined, follow your eyes more than you have to playing to the outside. Tendencies, stuff like that, I feel like it requires more eye discipline inside the tackles and against power.

Who has been the biggest mentor for you as far as studying film and playing disciplined?

My coach, coach (defensive line coach Clint) Hurtt. And then (Jarran) Reed, Reed has always been in my ear about getting better.

You and Al Woods share some similarities as far as an ability to defend down the line. How did he help you?

Big Al was like, big Al was really down to earth. He taught me some stuff on the field too, but like, he and I’s relationship was more talking about off the field stuff. Him as a vet and being experienced, he really helped me with that aspect.

How helpful was it to you and the other defensive tackles, playing alongside Jadeveon Clowney, the way he commands double teams and changes the numbers on the line?

It gives a lot of us inside guys one-on-ones and the ability to work our rush and stuff like that.

Was it extra special to you to get to play with him, being from South Carolina where he was kind of a legend even before reaching the NFL?

Yeah, to me it was like, when we signed him I was happy. But then even just being on the same practice field as him, I was like maaaan. I was in high school watching this man and watching him dominate in college and stuff like that, we’re both from the same state and now we’re playing on the same NFL team. It was just, it was kind of crazy to me. Being that young, and he’s probably one of the greatest to come out of South Carolina, I was a little bit starstruck at first.

Was there a moment for you, up close with Jadeveon Clowney, where the legend that preceded him was confirmed in a sense?

For me, it was that pick-six he had, against Arizona in Arizona. He was doing that in high school and I got to see it live. I was like “dang, yeah, he’s the truth.”

I’ve always been impressed by your ability to read a screen pass, tail off your rush, and pursue the running back. What goes into defending a screen so well as a defensive tackle?

It’s kind of film study, and kind of what you feel coming off the ball, and what kind of sets you get from the o-linemen. It’s really just the feel of the block that you’re getting.

Going back to 2010 when Carroll was first hired in Seattle, he’s always talked about wanting his defensive linemen to chase the ball wherever it goes. Is that something you’ve always had in your game or something they helped grow?

That’s something I try to take pride in. They say to leave it all out on the field, so that’s what I try to do and just give my team it all for four quarters.

Being more of a nose/1-tech, your pass rush opportunities are limited but you penetrate so well against the run. What do you need to improve on to develop as a pass rusher, and do you think those opportunities will increase in 2020?

What I need to improve on is really the feel of the block, whether the lineman is working up or if he’s just coming off, or a run block for play-action. I need to work on the film. I need to not let my feet stop, and just work my move faster than what I have been doing.

Is there a play for you that stands out from last season as your personal favorite?

One of my favorites was when we played Philly the first time, I had gotten a pressure and it forced an interception—we got a pick off that pressure. I was inches away from getting a sack, and that’s how I knew I had the ability to do better in my rush.

Was that game the most enjoyable for you as a defensive line, dominating the Eagles’ offensive line the way you did?

Oh yeah, we set the tone.

How has the virtual offseason been?

I feel like everybody has a good understanding of the defense and stuff, and we’ve covered a lot of ground during this virtual course.

Have you been able to get on-field work done?

Yeah, I’ve been in Seattle working with Cliff. I’m getting better every day.

What’s been the biggest thing Cliff has taught you?

Staying active, always keep your hands up. I feel like I have to get better at how to use a foot freeze and just really working on my hand speed, getting my hands, getting continuous reps at everything. That’s the only thing that can help you, getting as many reps as you can get.