Lions expect Ziggy Ansah to be much more than situational player as rookie
DETROIT — The San Francisco 49ers took Aldon Smith with the seventh pick in the 2011 NFL draft and used him as a situational pass rusher as a rookie with great success.
Smith played less than 50 percent of the 49ers’ defensive snaps that season and had 14 sacks, tied for fifth-most in the league.
The Lions spent the fifth pick of this year’s draft on projectable defensive end Ziggy Ansah, but they don’t intend to follow the 49ers’ less-is-more plan with their young pass rusher.
“We view him as more than a situational guy,” Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek said Tuesday. “He’s not just going be a third-down player for us. He’s in the scheme, and he’s going to do everything we ask the other guys to do. We’re not just going to have some special package for Ziggy; he’s going to be in there.”
Ansah gave a brief glimpse of what he can do in the Lions’ exhibition win over the New York Jets last week.
He played 20 snaps — most among Lions starters in the front seven — and finished with two tackles and an interception that he returned 14 yards for a touchdown.
Ansah will see significant playing time again Thursday, against the Cleveland Browns in the Lions’ second exhibition game. But Willie Young is expected to start after playing with the first-team defense at right end this week.
“You heard a lot of the predraft stuff, that they were knocking his instincts and he’s raw and he hasn’t played football,” Kocurek said. “One of his greatest assets is his instincts, and that’s what we saw on film going in. The guy sees the ball and finds the ball, and there’s something to be said about that.
“Some guys can go out there and play everything perfect and can’t find the ball and make a play. And he’s a guy that can go out there, he sees the field, and his instincts take over and he makes plays.”
That’s exactly what happened against the Jets, when Ansah got no real push against left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson but recognized a screen pass coming and threw his hands in the air for an easy interception.
“For a guy that’s only played the game a short period of time, some of the stuff that he does on tape, you’re just like, ‘Wow, how did he see that?’” Kocurek said. “Obviously, he just has a natural gift for doing it. He’s got a long way to go still. We’ve got three preseason games (left), and he’s still got to get through it, so he’s got a lot of work to put in. He’s got to get better off his performance. I know he made some nice plays, but he’s also got things he needs to correct.”
Whether he ends up as a starter or backup as a rookie, it’s clear Ansah will play a significant role as one of several new faces on the Lions’ front.
Jason Jones takes over for Cliff Avril on at left end, either Ansah or Young will replace Kyle Vanden Bosh on the right side, and rookie fourth-round pick Devin Taylor should be in the playing group as well, as he continues to ascend in what has been a strong preseason.
Taylor forced the Lions’ other turnover against the Jets with a third-quarter strip-sack of quarterback Greg McElroy. And while Kocurek was noncommittal about the South Carolina product’s role, the sense in the organization is that they might have found a middle-round gem.
“Both the rookies that we drafted: extremely intelligent guys,” Kocurek said. “It’s not something where you’re recorrecting things on a daily basis. Usually, you correct something and they get it.
“We’re very fortunate that we have two really smart guys that we drafted as young players that understand that this game’s just as much mental as it is physical, and you’ve got to be on top of things mentally to let your physical ability take over. They’re both really, really, really smart individuals.”
Note: Lions running back Joique Bell posted this video on his Instagram account of Lions rookies — all offensive linemen, it looks like — singing at a team meeting of some sort. Larry Warford is the one in the gray shirt with the pretend microphone. Darren Keyton is the one on the left, LaAdrian Waddle is next to Warford, and the fourth guy appears to be Austin Holtz. Enjoy.
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