Defensive end Ezekiel Ansah of Brigham Young was drafted by the Lions with the fifth pick. Ansah, who grew up in Ghana, played football for the first time in 2010.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah got into his stance, ready to fire off the line for a pass-rushing drill.
Not so fast.
Defensive line coach Kris Kocurek put his hands on the raw rookie during Monday's practice, shifting his hips and moving his left foot to adjust an awkward stance.
Detroit drafted Ansah fifth overall in the draft, counting on the former Brigham Young standout to develop into a star despite limited experience. He grew up in Ghana, playing soccer and basketball, before playing football for the first time in 2010.
Ansah, though, is more than ready to move on from the previous storylines about him struggling to put pads on and making a remarkable journey to the NFL.
"It's about the future now," he said softly. "And the future for me is making plays to help this team win."
Ansah has learned a lesson early in his NFL career. If you make a mistake, move on and don't repeat the miscue.
"Ziggy is really good that way," coach Jim Schwartz said. "He has a lot to learn, that's well-documented. We have talked about that for a long time, but he is eager, quick to learn."
While Ansah has shown flashes of promise, it's also clear he has work to do.
In his first full-pad practice, a third or fourth-string offensive tackle, LaAdrian Waddle, easily got Ansah on the ground. The next snap, Ansah put himself in a position to make a tackle on running back Theo Riddick. Then he jumped offside, only to later use his speed to get close enough to tackle receiver Matt Willis near the sideline had it been a full-contact drill.
The 6-foot-5, 271-pound Ansah is clearly fast and strong enough to make plays in the league.
"Ziggy is a freak," teammate Stephen Tulloch said. "He's a raw player, but very instinctive. He can read screens very well, runs to the ball very well. He's just a real, good athlete. He reminds me of a young Jevon Kearse. ... You can tell he needs a little more work, but he's definitely a good pickup for us."
Ansah quietly believes that he will prove the Lions knew what they were doing when they drafted such an inexperienced player so high in the draft.
He moved to the United States in 2008 after some missionaries he befriended suggested he attend BYU and play basketball. He fell short in hoops, getting cut twice, and ran for the school's track team before eventually taking the advice of friends and asking Cougars football coach Bronco Mendenhall for a tryout in 2010.
Ansah's path to the league isn't conventional, but that hasn't dashed his confidence.
"I know I can do it," he said. "The Lions have a lot of faith in me, and I have a lot of faith in them. I just have to learn in the classroom every day and take what I've learned on the field and pack a punch."
Ansah acknowledges he is fortunate to play next to defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, both of whom may occupy as many as four blockers to free him up to beat an offensive tackle by himself.
"It's a privilege to play with those two guys," Ansah said. "I don't hesitate to say they're the best in the league. To know I'm on their side is great. We're going to make it easier on each other."
Willie Young, one of the defensive ends competing against him for playing time, said Ansah is "a good rookie."
"He'll definitely play a role for us," Young said. "There are six defensive ends on the roster, so no one knows what's going to happen in terms of who's going to start and who's going to come off the bench. Ziggy is pretty good, but he's got a lot to learn too."
NOTES: The Lions took OG Leroy Harris off the physically unable to perform list and kept WR Devin Thomas on the active PUP list and DE Ronnell Lewis remains on the nonfootball injury list. ... DE Jason Jones (knee), CB Ron Bartell (right shoulder), CB Jonte Green (right hamstring), S Louis Delmas (left knee), CB Chris Greenwood (hamstring), and LB Carmen Messina (hamstring) didn't practice.