Seahawks defensive tackle Poona Ford (97) was graded as the 10th best interior lineman by Pro Football Focus last season in just 254 snaps. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Seahawks defensive tackle Poona Ford (97) was graded as the 10th best interior lineman by Pro Football Focus last season in just 254 snaps. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Art Thiel: Seahawks’ tradition of unorthodox players continues

At just 5-foot-11 Poona Ford is not your typical D-lineman, but teammates are raving about his play.

Aside from the usual passel of injuries that afflict every NFL team in August, the Seattle Seahawks have had a mostly quiet preseason. No holdouts, no real fights, few starting position contests or strategy shifts, and no off-field dramas or orations like those from the provocateurs of yesteryear, such as Marshawn Lynch, Richard Sherman or Michael Bennett.

But there is one guy that is upholding a quirky tradition of the Pete Carroll years — the undrafted misfit who comes to acclaim from just east of nowhere.

With the retirement of wide receiver Doug Baldwin, the only undrafted free agent expected to start this season is defensive tackle Poona Ford. The chip on his shoulder is as thick, square and heavy as he is, vibrating perhaps even harder than Baldwin’s.

“I think about it every day,” Ford said after practice Wednesday. “I tell myself I got 254 guys I gotta be better than every day, which makes me do what I gotta do.”

The reference was to the number of college players annually drafted by the NFL. The Seahawks pride themselves in finding serviceable players from the tired, the poor, the huddled masses who are not among the chosen. Ford hates that he was among the unwashed.

Even though he was a big-time player on a big-time college team — defensive player of the year for Texas in the Big 12 Conference — he was 5-foot-11 and 310 pounds, dimensions that are found in the NFL as often as they are on models working high-fashion runways.

Turned out he was right-sized in his rookie season of 2018 to disrupt the middle of most every opponent play, even though what he does well was sufficiently obscure that even the Seahawks missed it for too long.

“When we looked back on the season, we should have played him more,” Carroll said Wednesday. “He’s really an instinctive player. It took awhile to appreciate that.

“He’s unique, because of his stature and style. He uses his (arm length) so well, and has great quickness. He gave us indications; we saw it. In time, because he’s such an aware player, he’s going to know where the ball is going almost every snap.”

The ability flashed several times Saturday night in the Seahawks’ fake game in Minnesota, particularly halfway through the first quarter. The Vikings had a first down at their own 10-yard line when Ford shoved aside his blocker, dropped rookie running back Alexander Mattison for a 1-yard loss and knocked the ball free.

The Seahawks recovered but were denied possession because officials ruled Mattison was down before he lost the ball. The call appeared wrong, but the impact was undeniable.

The play brought to mind perhaps the strongest player statement made in training camp, where skepticism is normally the custom regarding young players.

“Poona has a chance to end up being one of the best nose tackles that could have played,” said center Justin Britt, startling some heavy-lidded media scavengers. “He’s got that God-given leverage and knows how to use it. He knows how to control everything with his size. 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.”

The same sentiment came from Seahawks right guard D.J. Fluker.

“Poona is a challenge — that’s a grown man right there,” said the 350-pound Fluker, laughing. “He’s a great dude. He’s real squatty. He’s got good quickness, long arms, plays hard to the whistle. He showed up last year.

“He’s got an advantage. Shoot, if he was 6-4 coming on a bull rush, you’re kind of done.”

The evaluations are not just teammates blowing smoke. Pro Football Focus looked at each of his 254 snaps the past season, in which he started only one game, and gave him a grade of 90.3, 10th among all interior defensive linemen in the NFL.

Ford’s quick development becomes more critical in light of the pending six-game suspension of his partner at tackle, Jarran Reed, busted by the NFL for an episode of domestic violence 27 months ago for which charged were never filed. The absence of Reed for the season’s first six regular-season games is a blow, because the D-line already was the Seahawks’ thinnest unit.

Ford calls his style of play “vertical,” an odd term for someone unlikely to find a lot of daylight under his cleats. But it makes more sense to someone who plays so low that grass looks like it’s up.

“By playing vertical, I knock straight back whoever blocks me, to reset the line of scrimmage,” he said. “The chest down is my strike zone. I stay lower than he is, and keep my feet moving at a rapid pace, so I don’t get tripped up.”

Given all the praise he’s drawing, he could get tripped up in a more psychological way.

“It feels good,” he said. “But I still got 16 games to prove myself, to create an image of who Poona Ford is.”

The Seahawks, belatedly, get the picture. Time for the rest of the NFL.

Art Thiel is co-founder of

Talk to us

More in Sports

Washington's Sami Reynolds runs the bases against McNeese during an NCAA softball game on Saturday, May 20, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/John Froschauer)
Local softball stars Reynolds, Mahler set for WCWS

Washington’s Sami Reynolds (Snohomish) and Stanford’s River Mahler (Monroe) each play prominent roles on their Pac-12 teams.

Alberto Rodriguez.
Rodriguez puts on power display, leads AquaSox to series win

The 22-year-old outfielder mashed 11 extra-base hits, including six home runs, as Everett took five of seven from Eugene.

Vote for The Herald’s Prep Athlete of the Week for May 22-28

The Athlete of the Week nominees for May 22-28 Voting closes at… Continue reading

Daniel Kim, left, and Ben Borgida, right, chat between holes during the Snohomish County Amateur golf tournament at the Everett Golf and Country Club in Everett, Washington on Monday, May 29, 2023. (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Kim soars to 4-shot win in 92nd Snohomish County Amateur

The WSU freshman and Kamiak graduate’s 12-under final total was the historic tournament’s lowest since at least 2010.

New York Yankees' Aaron Judge gestures after hitting a solo home-run against the Seattle Mariners during the seventh inning of a baseball game Tuesday, May 30, 2023, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Caean Couto)
Judge strikes again, Mariners lose to Yankees

Seattle falls 10-2 for a second consecutive lopsided loss.

Cooper Cummings from the United States celebrates after winning a men's downhill during the Cheese Rolling contest at Cooper's Hill in Brockworth, Gloucestershire, Monday May 29, 2023. The Cooper's Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake is an annual event where participants race down the 200-yard (180 m) long hill chasing a wheel of double gloucester cheese. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
Arlington High School grad is the big cheese after winning UK race

Cooper Cummings, who grew up in Lake Stevens, defeated a world record-holder in Cooper’s Hill Cheese Rolling and Wake.

Jackson High School is awarded the 2023 WIAA class 4A softball championship trophy in Richland, Wash., on Sat., May 27. (TJ Mullinax/for The Herald)
Jackson wins state title over GP after game called by weather

The Timberwolves win 5-1 to hoist their third state softball trophy since 2018 after a game that ended in unusual fashion.

Lake Stevens’ Grant Buckmiller takes a peek at the clock as he runs to the title in the 4A boys 200 meter dash during the WIAA State Track and Field Championships on Saturday, May 27, 2023, at Mount Tahoma High School in Tacoma, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
State track: Lake Stevens sprinter Buckmiller blazes to multiple titles

Also, Kamiak’s Kalia Estes and Jaedyn Chase claim championships and more on local title winners and state placers.

The Yankees’ Aaron Judge jogs the bases after hitting his second home run of the game a Mariners first baseman Ty France looks on during the sixth inning of a game Monday in Seattle. (AP Photo/Lindsey Wasson)
Judge homers twice, Yankees clobber Mariners

Rookie standout Bryce Miller struggles against the New York lineup in Seattle’s 10-4 loss.

Most Read