Ezekiel Ansah, Star Lotulelei making big impacts early in their NFL careers
In addition, Ansah has been nominated for the Pepsi Next NFL Rookie of the Week honors for his week three performance, along with Cincinnati running back Giovani Bernard, Tennessee Titans wide receiver Justin Hunter, New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith and Cleveland linebacker Barkevious Mingo.
Farther east, the former Utah All-American's early career has prompted the Charlotte Observer's Scott Fowler to make a strong proclamation: "Lotulelei could eventually become the best defensive tackle in Panthers history."
Through three games, all of which he started at right defensive tackle, Lotulelei has nine tackles, including seven solo, in addition to his sack. The tackle total is second-best among the Panthers' defensive linemen.
Nearly half of his tackles, four, came in the Panthers' season opener against Seattle on Sept. 8. That day, Carolina held the Seahawks, viewed by many as a favorite to make the Super Bowl, to 70 rushing yards and a 2.7 yards-per-carry average.
His influence on the Panthers' defense is already impressing his more experienced teammates.
“He’s not a star,” Carolina defensive end Greg Hardy told the Observer. “He’s a superstar. And this superstar is a beast. I see some crazy things for his future. When and if he does keep developing, he’s going to be unstoppable.”
The Panthers are currently 10th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game, giving up 93.0 yards per contest on the game, and sacking Giants quarterback Eli Manning seven times on Sunday.
In assessing Lotulelei's early season efforts, ESPN's Kevin Weidl said, "The Panthers have received a strong early return for Lotulelei. He has made his presence felt on the interior. Lotulelei has been stout defending the run and has created disruption in the backfield while also showing impressive range."
With an emphasis on stuffing the run from his tackle position, Lotulelei has helped clog the middle and freed others like Panthers linebacker Luke Kuechly to make plays all across the field. Kuechly, considered a top-flight inside linebacker, leads the team in tackles with 29.
“I’ve been happy,” Lotulelei told the Observer, “but I definitely feel like there’s a lot of room to improve. If I can clean a few things up, I’m going to make a lot more plays.”
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @brandonljudd
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