O'HARA: Where does Ziggy Ansah go from here?

Posted Jul 29, 2016

After notching double-digit sacks and making his first Pro Bowl, the question becomes: Where does defensive end Ziggy Ansah go from here?

Ziggy Ansah reached one goal last year, and along the way he answered a big question that was hanging over him and the rest of the Detroit Lions’ defensive line from the moment Ndamukong Suh left the team to sign with Miami as a free agent.

It was an obvious question. How would the front four in general, and Ansah specifically at defensive end, perform without Suh at tackle dominating the interior?

Ansah reached his goal and answered the question in the process. He wanted to have double-digit sacks for the first time, and he cruised past that goal with 14.5 sacks. He missed the franchise’s official sack record of 15, set by Robert Porcher in 1999, by a half sack.

It was a breakout season for Ansah that answered any question about whether he needed any help to get to the quarterback after posting seasons of 8 and 7.5 sacks his first two seasons in Detroit. Ansah’s 14.5 sacks ranked third in the league, and he was voted to his first Pro Bowl.

The question now is where does he go from here as he prepares for his fourth season?

My take on where Ansah stands: After last year’s performance, a fair question is how would the Lions’ defensive line perform without Ziggy Ansah?

Head coach Jim Caldwell laughed – but not especially joyously – at the thought of not having Ansah wreaking mayhem.

“It’s a good question, and I certainly don’t want to find out any time too soon,” Caldwell said Friday after the first day of training camp. “He has really developed into a quality talent. I think it’s kind of an understatement if you say it about a guy who’s been to the Pro Bowl, but the fact of the matter is he’s still scratching the surface of what I think he’s capable of being.

“From a physical standpoint, he’s developing. He’s stronger. He’s running just as fast as he’s ever run, and he has a real good knowledge of his responsibilities. There’s not a whole lot of thinking involved now.

“I think he’s one of those guys who will draw a whole lot of attention. You have to kind of know where he is. Otherwise, he’s going to wreak a whole lot of havoc.”

Ansah is fast becoming one of the emerging stars in the NFL.

There were questions about the pace Ansah’s career arc could take when the Lions drafted him fifth overall out of Brigham Young in 2013. He was still something of an unknown quantity in terms of what he’d bring immediately because of his limited experience playing football.

He was born in Ghana and went to Brigham Young to play basketball. He switched to football, and his natural athletic ability quickly translated to the gridiron. At 6-5 and 279 pounds, Ansah has a rare combination of strength, power, speed and quickness. It’s a combination that makes him ideally suited to play defensive end.

In three years, he has become a known commodity in the NFL. The only downside to that is the additional attention offensive coordinators might pay him to keep him away from their quarterbacks.

“I think that depends on the offense,” Ansah said Friday. “If they want to have a game plan for me, they will. If they don’t, it’s totally up to them. Like I say, every day, every week, I’m going to come out here and work as hard as I can.

“There are a lot of good players on the line. You can’t really focus on one person and leave the rest. You have to pay attention to all four guys in the game – and the linebackers, the defensive backs ... everybody. It’s not just about me.”

Ansah doesn’t seem to get affected off the field by events that can become distractions for players. For example, cornerback Darius Slay, the Lions’ second-round pick in the 2013 draft, signed a lucrative contract extension Friday.

The obvious question for Ansah was how he feels about his contract negotiations that are a year or two away. His answer, and all the questions related to Slay’s contract, showed how Ansah stays on an even keel – except when he’s on the field. He seemed to enjoy sparring with the media in a low-key manner.

“I’m not paying attention to my contract,” he said. “I’ve got this year to focus on. That will be it.”

How does he feel about Slay’s deal?

“You’ve got to ask him,” Ansah said. “What does he think about it?”

Slay was excited, he was told.

“As long as he’s excited, I’m excited,” Ansah said. “He’s a young guy who’s got great talent, making plays on the field. I’m really excited for him.”