By Will Burchfield, @burchie_kid
In Jim Caldwell’s eyes, it’s pretty easy to grasp the special ability of Ziggy Ansah.
“All you do is take a look at the film – you look at practice film, even – and he does things that no one else does. He has some very unusual traits and characteristics,” Caldwell said.
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who’s been studying the Lions’ defense in preparation for Sunday’s game, would agree.
“They can obviously rush the passer, with Ansah especially. He’s a special, special player,” Luck said in a conference call on Wednesday.
Ansah, a relative unknown when he entered the NFL in 2013, has blossomed into a bonafide star. He finished third in the league last year with 14.5 sacks – just a half-sack shy of the Lions’ single season record – and was rewarded with a trip to the Pro Bowl.
“That’s quite an honor and that tells you right there that he’s one of the best in the league,” Caldwell said.
But the Lions’ coach still thinks the 27-year-old defensive end has room to improve.
“I certainly do, and I think you’ll see that. If he can stay healthy you’ll see an even better version of him because he’s really just starting to scratch the surface of all of the things that he’s capable of doing within the context of our scheme,” Caldwell said.
Ansah finds himself in rarefied air. He is soaring into superstardom, yet the sky remains the limit. He can still get better, even while being one of the best.
The NFL’s upper echelon of defensive players? That’s not really a target anymore.
“I like to think he’s already there,” said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin. “I think he just has to keep improving. I’m not looking for any numbers or anything like that.”
Ansah’s dad is, though. He’s pushing his son to break 15 sacks this season and write his name into the Lions’ record books.
Reminded of that on Thursday, Ansah smiled and downplayed the idea of aiming for certain statistics.
“Nobody ever puts numbers to the work that I do,” he said. “I just try to improve on the previous year and that’s the best I can do.”
In that case, one reporter pointed out, 15 sacks should be his minimum target.
“Thank you,” Ansah deadpanned, before breaking into a laugh. “Good job.”
Ansah’s ascent is startling given his background. The Ghana native didn’t begin playing football until his sophomore year at Brigham Young University and didn’t make much of an impact on the field until his senior year.
You’d hardly know that watching him now.
“He’s a guy that didn’t play from the time he was 8, 9, 10 years like a lot of guys, but he has all the necessary tools to be outstanding and he has a real nasty streak in him, which is something that I think makes a tremendous difference” said Caldwell.
The coach grinned when he mentioned Ansah’s viciousness on the gridiron.
“That’s the way you play the game and he does it well,” Caldwell said.
Austin went a step further.
“This guy is as fine a football player as I’ve been around,” he said.
Asked for his thoughts on receiving such praise, the poker-faced Ansah responded in typically subtle fashion.
“I appreciate you, Teryl,” he said.