Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin would be lying if he said he'd predicted the success defensive end Anthony Zettel is having in his second season when the team drafted Zettel in the sixth round of the 2016 draft out of Penn State.
"No, it wasn't before we drafted him. I can tell you that," Austin said this week, when asked when he realized Zettel would be a pretty good player. "Kris (Kocurek) and I went and worked him out at Penn State, and we saw a guy that maybe physically like some of the other guys, maybe doesn't measure up.
"But we saw he was tough, worked hard. I remember in our workout with him, we put him through the ringer, and we were like, 'Want to do some more?' He's like, 'I got all day.' And that's how he works."
After playing a reserve role as a rookie with limited productions (10 tackles and one sack), Zettel transformed his body in the offseason with a workout regimen with current and former Penn State players. He got stronger and quicker, and when he returned for the offseason training program, Austin was impressed with the transformation.
"I think the point where we thought he might end up having a pretty good year was this offseason," Austin said. "He came back in great shape, better shape than he was obviously through last year, stronger, moved better. And during the OTAs and offseason is where you saw that boy, he's a little bit different than he was last year."
It showed up in the preseason and has continued right into the regular season. Through nine games, Zettel has been a terrific story upfront for Detroit's defense.
He leads the Lions with six sacks, which ranks in the top 20 in the NFL, and his 11 tackles for loss are the third most in the league.
That production has been outstanding, but it's meant even more for Austin and Co. considering that Ziggy Ansah has struggled for a second straight year with injuries and a dip in production. Ansah's expected to miss his second consecutive game Sunday in Chicago with a back injury.
Zettel's quickly developing into the one of the bright young pass rushers in this league, and it couldn't come at a better time for the Lions' defense.
DECKER SETTLING IN
Taylor Decker admitted Thursday that he felt a little rusty last week in his first game action since last year's NFC Wild Card playoff game in Seattle.
Decker shared reps with Brian Mihalik in his first game back since undergoing shoulder surgery in June. He played 69 percent of the snaps last week, which Decker said went a long way to helping him settle back into the flow. He called the 36 reps he got "invaluable."
"You can try and simulate that as much as possible in practice, but it's just not the same speed or intensity," he said.
"I feel like every single day I'm getting better right now and getting more comfortable right now. But, I didn't get a training camp. I didn't get a preseason. I didn't get anything like that. So, I have to accelerate my learning curve to get comfortable. It'll just take time to get more comfortable."
It's expected that Decker will get most, if not all, the reps in Chicago Sunday.
Lions captains for Sunday are: Theo Riddick (offense), Darius Slay (defense), Cornelius Washington (defense) & DJ Hayden (special teams).