Silent star: Detroit Lions rookie Ziggy Ansah lets his play — and others — do the talking

Published: Thursday, Dec. 12 2013 5:25 p.m. MST

Added Rogers: “I’ve joked with him off the record. He’s got a pretty quick wit. Every time he makes a joke, I realize his grasp of the English language is a little better than I want to give him credit for. … Every time he says he doesn’t understand me, I’m pretty sure he does; he just doesn’t want to talk.”

Apparently, Ansah, who leads all NFL rookies with seven sacks this season, is happy to let his play — and others — do the talking for him.

After that tough loss to Tampa Bay, Suh fielded tough questions from reporters. But Suh’s face broke into a smile when I asked him about Ansah.

“Ziggy’s a great guy. I’ve gotten to know him really well,” Suh told me. “He’s very athletic, with a lot of raw talent. We saw it from the very beginning. The biggest thing with him is that he needs to get more and more experience. He’ll definitely be one of the top defensive linemen in this league. He’s a first-rounder for a reason. He’s not a bust. You’ve got to respect him.”

“He’s got a lot of upside to him,” said Lions rookie defensive end Devin Taylor, a fourth-round pick out of South Carolina. “We’re glad to have him out there. It was great to see him jump right back into the rotation and be effective and productive. He really came through for us today on a couple plays. You can’t ask for anything more from him.”

After Ansah had seven tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble in a Week 3 victory against quarterback Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, Lions defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham offered effusive praise for his rookie defensive end.

"He reminds me of some of the great players I’ve seen,” Cunningham said. “With Ziggy, you really don’t notice it until you look at the tapes how many plays he’s made that are almost the side of impossible … People said he didn’t have football instincts. Well, I guess if you grow up in Africa you get some instincts. I don’t know what he has, but he finds the ball really quickly."

Cunningham projects Ansah to be a player that will be productive in the league for a long time.

“His future is bright,” Cunningham said. “Ziggy stays within himself. He’s not a showboat. There’s a lot of blessings when it comes to him.”

The Lions currently own a 7-6 record and lead the NFC North. With a strong finish, Detroit is poised to reach the postseason for the first time since 2011. The Lions have advanced to the playoffs only twice since 1999.

On Sunday, during Detroit's 34-20 loss to Philadelphia in a blizzard, Ansah played just 23 snaps — he was credited with three tackles, including one for a loss — before leaving the game in the second half with a shoulder injury. Lions coach Jim Schwartz said it didn't appear to be a "long-term" injury, "but we'll have to see."

Die-hard Detroit fans know who Ziggy is, and are generally aware of his backstory. They know about the Ghanaian’s meteoric rise, from someone who didn’t know anything about football just a few years ago to a first-round, top-5 pick.

Rogers calls Ansah “a natural in a lot of ways. Cunningham appreciates the fact Ansah didn’t have a football background because he feels like he was a blank slate and didn’t have to unteach him bad habits.”

Throughout his rookie season, Ansah has faced numerous Pro Bowl offensive left tackles, like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Matt Kalil and Trent Williams. But because of his limited background in football, Ansah is blissfully oblivious to the résumés of the players he faces, according to his teammates and coaches. He just lines up, and plays hard.

The coaching staff marvels at one particular play Ansah made against Arizona that showed his remarkable physical gifts. The Cardinals tried running the ball to Ansah’s side, and pulled the guard and the fullback that way. Ziggy bull-rushed the guard, then tossed the fullback aside with ease to make the tackle for a 1-yard gain.

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