Linebacker Fred Warner has been at the center of several positive developments for the San Francisco 49ers in recent days.
After inking a new five-year, $95 million deal with the team earlier this week, which includes $40.5 million in guaranteed money, Warner shared another encouraging development where the future of the Niners’ defense is concerned — the imminent return of defensive end Dee Ford.
Warner appeared on the KNBR Papa and Lund Podcast Friday, July 23, where he shared the latest on the elite pass rusher’s recovery from neck and back injuries that sidelined him for almost all of last season.
“Yeah, Dee, he’s great,” Warner said after he was asked about Ford’s progress. “He looks great. He’s back. I’ve seen him plenty, and he’s been working his tail off. I know the type of player that he is, and the fact that he’s back healthy is going to give us a huge advantage, so I’m really excited about seeing him back.”
With debilitating injuries like those plaguing Ford, getting back to 100 percent mentally is often as, or more, difficult than the necessary aspects of physical recovery. Warner said Ford has got that covered.
“I know his mind is right,” Warner added. “His mentality is exactly what we need for the defense.”
Niners Have Been Uncertain on Ford’s Return Timeline
Ford played in only one game for the Niners last year before his injuries sent him to the sideline for good.
San Francisco general manager John Lynch spoke to Ford’s condition in January, tempering hopes and expectations for his return to game action by the beginning of the regular season.
“When you’re dealing with that part of your body, the back, sometimes these things take more time. I think Dee tries to stay encouraged, but I think it’s been a struggle for him,” Lynch said. “We try to stay encouraged as well, but I can’t tell you with great absolute (certainty) that yeah, he’s going to be ready. We’re working hard, and he’s working hard to try to get there.”
Lynch most recently spoke to the media regarding Ford’s progress on Monday, March 29. His tone had improved significantly over the interim.
“Dee’s doing well. With that type of injury, you don’t want to get too high or too low, and I think he’s really in a good place. He’s working. He’s been here every day,” Lynch said. “He’s working extremely hard. It’s encouraging to look out my window and see things progress. I think we’ll leave it at that.”
Niners Defense Primed For Return to Prominence in 2021
Warner’s assessment Friday of Ford’s situation, combined with Lynch’s comments over the last several months, paint the picture of a positive recovery trajectory. If the pass rusher can return to the field, the Niners could find themselves with a defensive unit similar to the one that carried San Francisco all the way to the Super Bowl in 2019.
Another elite Niners pass rusher, Nick Bosa, is expected to suit up for the team’s opener in Detroit against the Lions on Sept. 12. After a stellar rookie season, Bosa tore his ACL in Week 2 against the New York Jets, following Ford to the sidelines.
With the return of both Ford and Bosa on the horizon, an elite pass rush could anchor a Niners defense hungry to get back to business after a year plagued by injury up and down the roster.