KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Until the first minicamp practice on Tuesday, the Kansas City Chiefs had only tantalized with rookie outside linebacker Dee Ford. They had used their first-round draft pick as a pass-rusher, but mixed him into their base defense only on occasion.
That changed on Tuesday, when Ford was on the field with the starters in all situations for the first time. Justin Houston continued his holdout and Ford was in his place, with veteran Frank Zombo moving to a backup role.
The move could be a sign the Chiefs aren't expecting to see Houston any time soon. It could mean the Chiefs just believe it's time to give Ford more to see how he handled things. They could easily go back to Zombo in today's practice, however unlikely that might be.
In any case, the lineup change was no small moment for the Chiefs or for Ford.
"It's a step," Ford said. "I can't lie. It means a lot to me working with the first group in all of the situations."
The Chiefs have Pro Bowlers in Houston and Tamba Hali at Ford's position, so they might like the luxury of using him mostly as a situational pass-rusher this early in his career. He's learning a new position, having played defensive end in college at Auburn, so the best thing for Ford and the Chiefs at this point might be to limit him to pass-rushing, what he knows best.
Houston's holdout doesn't allow them to bring him along slowly. It's one thing for Zombo to play as Houston holds out during regular offseason practice. Those workouts were technically voluntary.
Minicamp is a mandatory event for all players under contract, so Houston is subject to a fine for his absence. His holdout is suddenly more urgent, as is the Chiefs need to prepare Ford to take Houston's place.
Ford appeared to handle his assignments well.
"I was mistake-free today and I'm happy about that," he said. "That's the goal. I have a few smaller things to clean up, but it's not like I was out there and I didn't know what I was supposed to do on a play. I feel like I'm doing some good things. Once I do earn it. I want to sustain it."
The Chiefs drafted Ford because of his pass-rush ability. His success or failure will ultimately be based on his ability (or lack of it) to get to the opposing quarterback. But there is more to his job than just chasing the quarterback.
"That's very important to me to be known as more than just a pass-rusher," Ford said. "I want to be a guy that my teammates can count on on every play."