Cardinals defensive back Rudy Ford during offseason work.
Rudy Ford does not do it to be annoying. He tries to be considerate of sleep patterns and social calendars.
But when the Cardinals' sixth-round pick is confounded by something in the playbook, he can't help himself. Ford will pick up his phone and reach out to an assistant coach, calling during the day or sending a text message if it's getting late.
"They've got their personal time, but at the same time, if I have a question, they do pick up their phone," Ford said. "Like, 'This is how you correct that.' 'Thank you, Coach. I appreciate your time.' And then I let them go about their day."
Coach Bruce Arians has 90 players under his guidance, so he only knows snippets of them at this juncture. There is one thing that stands out about Ford, his rookie defensive back.
"He's extremely bright," Arians said.
While some of it may come naturally, Ford is also adamant that he not let his opportunity slip.
He was a draft pick, yes, but neither of the Cardinals' most recent sixth-round selections – wide receiver Walt Powell and cornerback Harlan Miller – made the active roster out of training camp. Ford is determined to give himself a shot to succeed in the NFL, and he's doing so with someone else in mind.
While a freshman at Auburn, Ford's mother, Terrie, suffered a heart attack which left her brain-dead. For the past three years she has been unable to see, move or communicate. Terrie lies in a bed at all times with a tube inserted into her trachea, her heart beating but the rest of her body still.
Ford has a couple weeks off now, treasured ones where he can see his mother. When he returns to Arizona for training camp later this month, he will look often at her picture on his phone as a source of motivation.
"She can't physically move," Ford said. "Me, I get up every day and I move. There's a part of me that moves for her. We're not from the wealthiest (background) so I move for her and my family."
Johnathan is Ford's given first name. Rudy was the nickname bestowed upon him as a child by his uncle, Phillip, after the underdog football player from the movie of the same name. Even though Ford is in rarified air as an NFL draft pick, the old mentality remains.
He grew up in the small unincorporated community of Big Cove, Alabama and made it to Auburn after attending a high school of fewer than 400 students.
"I feel like that underdog," Ford said. "I had to work my whole entire career."
Ford went to Auburn as a running back but soon switched over to defense and started in the secondary for three years. When the draft came in late-April, he didn't feel the need to have a cadre of supporters around him. He kept it simple, watching from home alongside his immediate family members.
"No need for the whole party scene," Ford said. "It was more, grill out and enjoy the time with the family."
After the Cardinals traded up to select him, Ford slipped into his mom's room and wrapped his arms around her. Every time he sees her, Ford whispers into Terrie's ear how much he loves her and how much he's been praying for her. This time, he added that he was officially a professional athlete.
"It's a memory I'll cherish for the rest of my life," Ford said.
On the field, Ford's path is fuzzy. He started at cornerback in the offseason and was moved over to safety to add to his versatility. He pledges to be a demon on special teams if that's the role the Cardinals need from him.
There is a lot to be determined in training camp, where Ford will battle for a spot on the active roster. During those five weeks, down time is sparse, but he will spend plenty of it thinking of his mother.
He's also bound to make a few phone calls to assistant coaches.
"I don't ever want to walk away from this thing and think, 'Could I have done more?'" Ford said. "I'm here putting the time in to do everything I can to seize the moment. That's why I grind hard."
Images of the Cardinals rookies as they navigated the first two months with the team