The Detroit Lions are on the lookout early this season to see which of their young pass rushers might evolve into the next George Johnson or Kerry Hyder Jr.
The Lions and defensive line coach Kris Kocurek have nurtured young pass rushers like Johnson a few years ago and Hyder last season to become key cogs in their pass-rush machine.
One early name to keep an eye on is second-year defensive end Anthony Zettel. The former sixth-round draft pick recorded a sack, and almost got home on a couple others. He recorded six quarterback hurries in all. He was active all day in Detroit's 35-23 victory over Arizona on Sunday, and Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer probably got pretty sick of seeing No. 69 in his face most of the game.
Zettel got the start opposite Ziggy Ansah, the first of his career, and said it was the most fun he's ever had playing football.
A performance like that should certainly boost Zettel's confidence, but he's making sure to keep one good game in the proper perspective.
"It helps, but it's a long season," he said Monday in the locker room. "We just have to kind of build on each game. You can't really get too high when it's going good and too low when its going bad. It's just how this game is. We just have to come every week and bring it."
The Lions' front seven brought it right at Palmer and the Cardinals' offensive line for 60 minutes. Palmer was hit seven times, hurried 19 times (per Pro Football Focus stats). Don't think for a moment the pressure in his face all afternoon didn't play a factor in the three interceptions he threw.
The Lions are relying on young players like Zettel and undrafted rookies Alex Barrett and Jeremiah Valoaga to step up in the absence of veterans Hyder (IR) and Armonty Bryant (four game suspension). In the first game of the season, Zettel stepped up to the plate.
Zettel said Monday he's not trying to be the next Hyder. He's trying to forge his own path.
"I'm not trying to compare stats or anything with Kerry (Hyder)," Zettel said. "But I just want to compare effort. If I can compete with effort (like Hyder did) then good things will take care of themselves."
Zettel has high expectations for himself, and wasn't sitting around patting himself on back for a good performance on opening day. His interview quickly turned to next week's Monday night game in New York against the Giants, and how he couldn't wait to get back in the trenches trying to make things difficult for Eli Manning and Co.
"I play this game to earn the respect of the guy across from me," Zettel said. "I just want that guy across from me on the Giants, who we'll be playing next week, just to know that he played me that game and I did good on him. That's why I play this game."