Ezekiel Ansah, Star Lotulelei making big impacts early in their NFL careers

Published: Tuesday, Sept. 24 2013 7:15 p.m. MDT

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (90) is greeted by teammate Ezekiel Ansah (94) during the second half of a NFL football game against the Arizona Cardinals, Sunday, Sept. 15, 2013, in Glendale, Ariz.

Ross D. Franklin, AP

Forgive the national broadcasters who are struggling to pronounce the last names of two former Utah college football stars — BYU's Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah and the University of Utah's Star Lotulelei.

The two are NFL rookies.

But at the rate they are learning and producing in the pro game, broadcasters better learn how to say Ansah and Lotulelei's names soon. They will likely be saying them more often, as both have established themselves as starters on their respective teams three games into their careers.

The defenders shared a connection after both were drafted in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft — defensive end Ansah went No. 5 to the Detroit Lions and defensive tackle Lotulelei was picked 14th overall by the Carolina Panthers.

On Sunday, the pair also shared something — producing their first breakout game during a regular-season contest.

In the Lions' 27-20 victory over Washington, Ansah had two sacks, seven tackles — including three solo — a forced fumble, two quarterback hits and a tackle for a loss.

Lotulelei tallied the first regular-season sack of his NFL career as Carolina earned its first victory of the young season, 38-0 over the New York Giants. He also had two tackles — one for a loss — and a quarterback hit.

It's just the start of what looks to be a promising career for both players.

According to mlive.com's Justin Rogers, Ansah played in 62 percent (48 total) of the Lions' 77 defensive snaps against Washington.

The former BYU standout has a team-leading 2½ sacks and the Lions' lone forced fumble of 2013, in addition to his 11 tackles that is tops among Detroit defensive linemen.

He is on pace for a 13½-sack season.

Ansah's numbers could be even more impressive: he's also had two sack-fumbles wiped away by penalties.

“He makes plays whenever he goes in the game. I don’t know if it’s a progression to tell you the truth," Lions coach Jim Schwartz said one day after Ansah's big day against the Redskins. "I mean he learns something new every week, he practices well, his technique continues to improve but he just has that knack for being able to make a play on the field. This game was no different.”

This comes after Ansah didn't start in week one, instead coming off the bench in Detroit's 34-24 win over Minnesota on Sept. 8 after being slowed by a concussion during practice prior to the regular season. He still produced a half sack and three tackles in the Lions' victory that day.

Ansah's snaps could increase after Detroit defensive end Jason Jones was lost for the season with a ruptured patella tendon in his left knee that he suffered during the Lions' win Sunday.

"Remember when some were saying Detroit reached for the Ghanan at No. 5?" mlive.com's Kyle Meinke wrote. "He and (Willie) Young (10 tackles and one sack) are Detroit's most disruptive ends and should be on the field together in that top unit with Jones out of the picture."

Ansah is also impressing the fans in Detroit. Currently on the team's website, a fan poll asked the question, "Which defensive lineman has been most impressive through three games?"

Of the four options — which also include All-Pro Ndamukong Suh, Nick Fairley and Jones — Ansah is the runaway winner, collecting 52 percent of the more than 1,800 votes as of 4 p.m. MDT Tuesday. Suh is next, with 29 percent.

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