We did talk about how Ziggy was an inexperienced player. But he was very instinctive playing things like screens and reverses and some trap blocks and draws and things like that that you would think an inexperienced player would struggle on. He did well on all those things. —Jim Schwartz, Detroit Lions head coach
There are exactly 100 days until the NFL season begins, and for Ziggy Ansah, they will be the most important days of his life.
The fifth overall pick from this year's draft, Ansah only started nine games in his collegiate career at BYU.
But that didn't stop the Lions from taking him ahead of more established playmakers like Dee Milliner from Alabama and Tavon Austin from West Virginia. And they're hoping he's worth it.
Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press reports that while Ansah is still very much in the developing stages, the Lions have been impressed, knowing it's going to be a challenge for him to grasp everything so quickly.
"It's all new to him," Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said.
Schwartz, who is entering his fifth year as head coach, said that Ansah's inexperience is evident, but that other rookies are in the same situation.
"We did talk about how Ziggy was an inexperienced player," Schwarz said. "But he was very instinctive playing things like screens and reverses and some trap blocks and draws and things like that that you would think an inexperienced player would struggle on. He did well on all those things.
“But our scheme is a lot different. It helped that we had him a week at the Senior Bowl. He got introduced to some of the techniques that we play. But all our rookies, their heads are spinning right now. A lot’s being asked of them.”
The next 100 days are more crucial for Ansah than perhaps any other player taken in last month's draft. Because of his inexperience, he comes in with less knowledge of schemes and proper technique than other players have. Secondly, he's expected to start immediately for a team that won't be bringing back either of last year's starting defensive ends.
The Lions didn't re-sign tackle Cliff Avril, and they cut veteran Kyle Vanden Bosch. Plus, after last year's disappointing 4-12 record after making the playoffs in 2011, the defense will be under the microscope even more than in years past when the expectations weren't high.
The Lions must be able to stop their opponents from lighting up the scoreboard, and Ansah is expected to help prevent that from happening. If the defense falters, quarterback Matthew Stafford and the offense will be forced to compete in shootouts every game, and that formula failed last season. Even though Calvin Johnson broke the NFL single-season receiving record, the Lions finished last in the NFC North.
In Birkett's report, Schwartz said all of the Lions' rookies had “a lot of catching up to do, and Ziggy’s the same way,” although he wouldn’t estimate how long it would take Ansah to perfect his technique.
But he knows it needs to happen as soon as possible.
“They’re not going to move our opener back because there’s a rookie that’s trying to get up to speed," Schwartz said. "And when you’re there, you’re not graded on the curve. You’re not graded on the rookie curve or the inexperienced player (curve). The final score is the final score. So there is urgency for him to get everything, but he’s done a good job so far.”
Michael Smith is an intern in the news section of DeseretNews.com. A 2013 graduate of the University of Utah, he will be attending Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism in the fall.