By: Will Burchfield
The Lions defense is banged up heading into Sunday’s battle at Lambeau Field, leaving Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers conflicted.
On one hand is DeAndre Levy, the veteran linebacker who Rodgers knows well. On the other hand is Ziggy Ansah, the young defensive end who Rodgers knows not.
Neither Levy (quad) nor Ansah (ankle) has practiced this week, casting each player’s status for Sunday’s game into question.
“Knowing DeAndre a little bit and competing with him over the years, I’ll miss him being out there because he’s such a tough competitor and strong player,” Rodgers said in a conference call with local reporters on Wednesday. “Last year with the injury, I’m sure it was pretty tough on him and I hope he gets back on the field as soon as possible.”
Levy missed all but one game in 2015 due to a hip injury after signing a four-year, $30 million extension in the offseason. He returned to the field for the Lions’ 2016 season-opener, but was sidelined again in Week 2 with a quad issue.
The Lions have declined to provide an update on his status moving forward, other than to say “We’ll see.”
While Rodgers is hoping to see Levy on the field this weekend, he didn’t quite say the same of Ansah.
“Ziggy, if he doesn’t play, I probably won’t miss him as much,” Rodgers laughed. “He’s a force to be reckoned with and he’s had a great young career for himself. He’s a really good player.”
Ansah is coming off a year in which he finished third in the NFL with 14.5 sacks, just a half-sack shy of the Lions’ single-season record. Primed for another big season, his momentum was derailed when he suffered an ankle injury on the first series of last week’s home-opener.
Perhaps the one positive of Ansah’s injury was the extra playing time it afforded preseason-sensation Kerry Hyder. Hyder recorded yet another sack on Sunday, his third of the season and his sixth in the past three games. His rise from perennial practice-squader to playmaking starter grows more impressive by the day.
Rodgers – despite Hyder’s jersey number – has taken notice.
“He’s done a great job. You look out there and see 61, that’s not always a defensive end number. I can’t think of another guy wearing that number, but a high-effort player, he’s making a lot of plays. You’ve got to give him a lot of credit. Obviously, he never became a victim of his circumstances,” he said.
Rodgers added that Hyder’s story is the kind that other players root for.
“He definitely must have a great work ethic and a lot of confidence because he’s really made himself into a solid player,” he said. “Those are the type of guys that you pull for. Maybe not when you’re playing them, but the guys who work themselves up to an active role and make a difference. Especially guys wearing 61 on the d-line there.”
The Lions are hardly the only team dealing with major injuries at the moment. The first two weeks of the season have decimated rosters across the league, knocking out players young and old.
“It’s tough, I mean, I’ve been on the IR myself, but it was late in the year in 2006 and it’s a tough feeling because you feel separated from the team,” Rodgers said. “It’s tough to see so many guys. It is a close-knit fraternity I think.”
This is especially true of veteran players, many of whom have crossed paths as teammates or competitors. Like, for example, Rodgers and Levy.
“There’s a lot of guys, you know, we work out together, we play against each other a couple times a year just in our division and you get to know guys a little bit on the field and a little bit off the field,” Rodgers said. “You hate to see those type of injuries to solid contributors. As you get older in the league, you kind of start pulling for some of the older guys to keep playing well at a high level.”
As for Ansah, Rodgers would be just fine seeing him sit Sunday’s game out.