Poona, Poona, Poona.
That’s what will come out of my mouth whenever I see this guy do something around or behind the line of scrimmage. I have a sneaking feeling that I’m going to be saying that a lot on Sundays this fall. My wife may have to brace for this one. It might get old fast.
There is a lot to like about this young second year defensive tackle. He’s short, and squat with unusually long arms, good strength, wheels, and great football instincts. Head coach Pete Carroll recently compared him to a former Trojan player he had years ago at USC, Tennessee Titan and pro-bowl player Jurrell Casey. That’s some high praise, for sure, but Poona, listed at 5-11 and 310 pounds, is about two inches shorter than Casey. Apparently, that was the difference between Casey being drafted in the third round, and Poona not being drafted at all.
It’s rare that a defensive tackle who is under six feet makes a big impact in this league, much less makes a squad in this league, but before Russell Wilson, it was pretty rare that a quarterback under six feet would be a perennial pro-bowl player, as well. Like Wilson before him, Poona is probably well prepared to buck those trends, and his long arms and low center of gravity will give him a decent advantage. This could well continue a trend of short defensive tackles in the league.
Jurrell Casey, Aaron Donald, Geno Atkins, Grady Jarrett, Michael Pierce, and Mike Daniels are all pro bowl level defensive tackles who are listed either at 6-0 or 6-1. They all excel at winning with leverage, strength, and quickness. That is what Poona Ford did as a rookie, and that has been what he has been doing so far at Seahawks training camp this Summer. I actually think Mike Daniels is a solid comp for Poona, and here is why.
Shortly after news came out that defensive tackle Jarran Reed would be suspended for the first six games of the season, the Green Bay Packers released Mike Daniels, and I think many Twelves who closely follow the league felt that Seattle would be a natural suitor for the former pro bowler. Seattle had the salary cap space to afford the interior pass rusher, and the apparent immediate need, but alas, they seemingly didn’t even nibble. After the dust settled on the initial disappointment of him quickly signing with Detroit, I began to see things more clearly.
“Seattle might feel like they already have their Mike Daniels on the roster,” was the thought that settled my mind. Sure enough, Daniels is listed as 6-0 and 310 pounds, just a mere inch away from being the exact measurements of Poona Ford. Interesting.
Now, I’m not going to pretend to have watched every Green Bay game over the last few years, but I will say that Seattle and Green Bay have pretty much felt like an annual matchup. In those battles, I have definitely noticed Mike Daniels being the dude constantly living in Seattle’s backfield, stuffing run plays, and harassing Russell Wilson. His combination of low center of gravity, strength, quickness and instincts made it difficult for Seattle’s taller offensive lineman to contain. That is very much Poona’s game.
Now, I’m not going to predict that Poona is going to become the next Mike Daniels, or Jurrell Casey, but lots of tea leaves are looking encouraging. I think it is perfectly reasonable to get excited about his potential.
Last year, albeit in a smaller sample size of playing time, Pro Football Focus graded out Poona Ford’s game at an astonishing 91.5, better than Aaron Donald’s rookie season in 2014, and better than any rookie defensive lineman since 2006. That is as glowing of a review as you can get for a rookie defensive tackle.
But don’t take PFF’s analytical word for it, his teammates are also chiming in with the praise. Recently, starting center Justin Britt said that Poona possesses “God giving abilities” to become one of the best nose tackles to ever play the game. That’s pretty crazy high praise. He noted that his leverage and long arms make him really difficult to block, and that he knows how to use them to his advantage.
Former Seattle linebacker Dave Wyman, who is now the color analyst for the team on 710 ESPN, has even gone so far as to compare his talent to the greatness of Cortez Kennedy. I also remember hearing him say on his radio show that he believed Poona was now the best player on Seattle’s defensive line shortly after pass rusher Frank Clark was traded. Again, that’s incredibly high praise, and Wyman is not known for hyperbole, but I trust his former NFL middle linebacker eyes. Dave Wyman probably knows a pretty talented defensive tackle when he sees one having played with Cortez.
Pete Carroll has tempered the praise, just a wee smidgen, though. When asked about his pass rush potential, Carroll said that they are finding it out, that he’s still developing there, but they are hoping it will show up sooner rather than later. He mentioned how it took defensive tackle counterpart Jarran Reed until year three to learn that craft, and they are hoping Poona will pick it up quicker.
With no Frank Clark on the team, and no Jarran Reed for the first six games of the season, they need bodies to contribute to the pass rush, and that most likely includes Poona Ford. Sure enough, when I was out at practice a week ago last Tuesday, Poona Ford was a starting defensive tackle in the pass rush package. From what I saw, he looked pretty active, and he wasn’t just lined up on the nose, they had him outside the guard a few times and was getting good penetration with one on one match ups against the starting offensive line.
But perhaps the biggest sign of encouragement about his potential, though, might actually be when the team played the Denver Broncos for their first preseason game, and he was one of the few healthy handful of starters that Carroll didn’t play. Those players included the likes of Russell Wilson, Duane Brown, Chris Carson, KJ Wright, and Tyler Lockett. Conceivably, Poona Ford is in their stratosphere now in terms of level of importance to this team. That speaks volumes to me.
All this from a 5-11, 310 pound, un-drafted defensive tackle from Texas. Never mind the fact that he was the Big 12’s defensive player of the year in 2017, logging in a ridiculous 20 tackles for a loss and 4 sacks while playing nose tackle in a 3-4 defense, a selfless position on a type of defense that does not normally generate eye popping stats like that. How thirty two teams did not draft this guy, I will never know, but obviously Seattle was lucky as a fly in a cow pasture to grab him as a un-drafted rookie free agent.
Another un-drafted rookie free agent from the state of Texas who recently did pretty well for Seattle was one Michael Bennett. Now, these cats are different players playing really different positions, but I personally don’t think it’s impossible for Poona Ford to find similar success at all.
When Bennett came into the league, you could just tell that he had “it.” It wasn’t really the workout numbers that you get at the NFL draft combine. It was instincts that you saw immediately on the field as a rookie free agent, and onward through his career. Those close to the Seahawks situation talk a lot about Poona’s instincts. He just gets it. He instinctively knows what to do, and how to do it, and he just makes plays. That’s Michael Bennett.
There’s a lot to like about Poona Ford. I think the team is genuinely high on him. I think he’s most likely the reason why they didn’t pursue a veteran player to the likes of Mike Daniels, or Gerald McCoy. I also think he might be the reason why, if Jarran Reed should decide to play hardball during contract negotiations, they might be willing to allow him to test the free agent market. They will have two more seasons of club control on a player that might even have more upside than Reed, and Reed is a really good football player.
That said, it’s still early in the preseason, and I would caution about any overhyping of any young player. No matter how much upside they might have, they still need to put it together. I just think by the sample size performance that we got from him in 2018, and how the team is bringing him along into his second year, there is a lot to get excited here, though.
It’s okay to be a little bit excited. I will let you.
Poona, Poona, Poona.