By Ashley Dunkak
FORD FIELD (CBS DETROIT) – Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah justified his first round draft status in his very first NFL game with an interception return for a touchdown in Friday’s preseason matchup against the New York Jets.
The play showed off Ansah’s athleticism and instincts, characteristics that the Detroit Lions expect to outweigh his relative lack of experience, with just two full seasons of action in college.
Head coach Jim Schwartz said Detroit had plenty of confidence in Ansah despite the heavy scrutiny of the Lions’ choice to take Ansah fifth overall.
“A lot of people were looking at us sideways when we drafted a guy that didn’t have a whole lot of experience, and that was sort of the buzz around him, but you need to watch the tape – he made plays like that in college,” Schwartz said. “He’s very good on draws and screens, reverses, things that an experienced player would generally struggle with, but he’s a good natural athlete. He’s got a background. He’s played a lot of sports. Played basketball, he’s run track. We certainly weren’t surprised by it.”
Fellow defensive ends Ndamukong Suh and Israel Idonije were impressed nonetheless.
“Me and Israel said a comment to him, ‘That’s a hell of a way to come out, getting the interception,’” Suh said, “but it’s not going to stop there. He has a lot of great natural talent. He’s going to continue to grow and continue to learn.”
As Suh describes it, Ansah has the old, intangible trait of a nose for the football – an understanding of where a play is going and where he needs to go to stop it.
“One of the things that the coaches found, one of the reasons why they picked him first overall, is because he has a very great instinct of finding the ball and making plays,” Suh said. “He may not always get off the ball to the T exactly how the coaches want to coach it – none of us do, I don’t even do it – but what they love about us and the freedom that we have within our defense is to use our instincts and play football.
“That’s one of the great things that he has, that he accomplishes and has built into him as a natural football player,” Suh added. “He has a great instinct of where the ball’s going to be, what’s going to happen and be able to read and react.”
When push comes to shove, of course, the pick-six was still just one moment in a preseason game. It did give everyone a glimpse, however, of the kind of potential Ansah has to be a force on the defense even as a rookie.
“It was obviously a great way for Ziggy to say hello,” quarterback Matt Stafford said. “It was a great play. He’s doing that all the time in practice. You’ll see it. He’s jumping up and batting balls down and making plays. Our whole defensive line is.
“That’s the kind of plays that can change a game,” Stafford added, “and it definitely sparked us as a team.”