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49ers expect healthy Ford to be total game-changer

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Edge rusher Dee Ford might not have ever felt completely healthy at any point last season, but the 49ers still saw the impact he can make when he is on the field.

“Dee Ford is a big piece of the puzzle,” 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “His speed has got to be accounted for when he's out there. It just kind of opens it up for everybody else on that front and by opening it up, it just stretches the offensive line and the way they've got to protect.

“The attention that he gets, that they've got to pay attention to with regards to chipping and the different things they've got to do, just frees up everybody.”

Ford said he felt as if he was playing on a “blown tire” for most of the 2019 season. He battled knee tendinitis during training camp. Then, experienced a physical setback that followed him throughout the season when the 49ers practiced on artificial surface in Youngstown, Ohio, between their Weeks 1 and 2 games in Tampa Bay and Cincinnati.

He underwent offseason surgery and appeared to be feeling good until he sustained a calf injury that cut short his practice day on Aug. 23. He was reportedly back on the practice field Thursday going through drills for the first time since then.

Coach Kyle Shanahan said this week he expects Ford and Nick Bosa healthy and ready for the season opener on Sept. 13 against the Arizona Cardinals at Levi’s Stadium.

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Ford appeared in 11 regular-season games and registered 6.5 sacks. He factors as a big part of the 49ers’ nickel defense after Bosa and Arik Armstead are likely to see most of the playing time at defensive end on base downs.

The 49ers would likely want to keep Ford fresh for him to get after the quarterback in key situations.

“We want to get him out there as much as possible and have guys rolling again in waves with that defensive line,” Saleh said. “I believe he’s got it in him. He looks good. He looks like he's getting closer and ready to go.”