ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Growing up in Ghana, Ziggy Ansah did dream of becoming a sports star in North America.
He expected it to be in the NBA.
Instead, Ansah’s lack of basketball ability has turned into a great benefit for the Detroit Lions, who have seen him become into one of the NFL’s most athletic and productive pass rushers. On Thursday, Ansah had a career-high 3 1/2 sacks as the Lions routed the Philadelphia Eagles 48-14.
“Ziggy is really a unique athlete, because he’s still developing as a football player, physically and fundamentally,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of the defensive end. “This is a young man who doesn’t have nearly the football experience that everyone else in the league has, so we’re just scratching the surface of what he can do.
“This is his third year, and he’s still getting faster and stronger. Right now, at 280 pounds, he has the second-lowest body-fat percentage on our roster. I don’t think anyone has any idea of how good he’s capable of being.”
Ansah came to the United States to attend Brigham Young on an academic scholarship, intending to walk on to the basketball team. However, he was cut in both 2008 and 2009, and ended up as a sprinter on the track team.
Even through Ansah had never played football and barely knew the rules, the BYU coaching staff was intrigued with his size and speed, and persuaded him to try out for the football team. He was far from an instant star, needing help putting on his pads, but his raw natural ability became obvious through his three years of college football.
In 2013, he hoped to be drafted fourth by the Eagles, but they took offensive tackle Lane Johnson – a move that came back to haunt them Thursday. When 2014 All-Pro tackle Jason Peters left the game with an ankle injury, Chip Kelly shifted Johnson from right tackle to left tackle, a move that thrilled Ansah.
“I was looking forward to playing against Jason Peters, because he’s such a great player, but he got hurt and they moved Lane from right tackle to left tackle,” he said. “That’s when it got a little personal for me, because I had visited the Eagles, but they decided to take him over me.
“It felt very good beating him and getting to the quarterback.”
Ansah’s huge day – he also stripped the ball from Mark Sanchez and returned the fumble to the Eagles 14, setting up another Detroit touchdown – moved him into a tie with J.J. Watt for the NFL lead in sacks with 11 1/2. Watt has yet to play this week.
“I know my job, and what I have to do to help our team win,” he said. “I’m just going out there and trying to do that as best I can. I’m not comparing myself to J.J. in any way.
“I had family here today, and so did most of the guys, and I’m glad we could put on a show for them. That’s going to make the turkey taste even better.”
The Lions played well defensively across the board, with the Eagles not scoring their second touchdown until the score was 48-7.
“We held that team to 68 yards rushing, which limited what they were able to do offensively,” Caldwell said. “Our front seven was able to do that and still put pressure on the quarterback, which is just what you need against that system.”
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