Israel Idonije on Ziggy Ansah: “He doesn’t get caught up in all the hype around his opposition." )
Allen Park — There are baptisms and there are baptisms by fire.
Lions defensive end Ziggy Ansah, five weeks into his rookie season, already has taken on a list of left tackles that reads like a Pro Bowl alumni roster: D’Brickashaw Ferguson, Matt Kalil, Trent Williams and, on Sunday for the second time, Joe Thomas.
But to Ansah, their names could have been Harpo, Groucho, Chico and Zeppo.
“He doesn’t know who he’s playing against,” veteran defensive end Israel Idonije said. “And he doesn’t get caught up in all the hype around his opposition. I think that’s an advantage.”
Idonije can relate to the benefits of this particular form of unawareness. Ansah is from Ghana. Idonije is from Nigeria. Neither grew up watching American football or idolizing NFL stars.
“You don’t worry about anything, you just play,” Idonije said.
Don’t misunderstand, Ansah knows what he’s up against Sunday. Not only did he get a brief taste of the confrontation during the exhibition season, the coaches have made him well aware of Thomas’ pedigree — six-time Pro Bowler, never missed a snap in 101 consecutive starts.
“Coaches have told me about his reputation,” Ansah said. “It really doesn’t mean anything to me if I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing. I just try to stay focused. I don’t let that get into my head. If it does, it would be more like motivation for me to do better.”
Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham called it a “blessing” that Ansah is blissfully unaware of what he is facing Sunday.
“The coaches have gone through it with him but he has no idea about the magnitude of the ability of some of these guys here at left tackle,” Cunningham said. “These are the highest-priced guys other than quarterbacks on the offense.”
There was a lot of concern when the Lions drafted Ansah in the first round because he had only played three years of organized football. Cunningham said that, too, has its advantages.
“Coaches kill a lot of players off by over-coaching,” he said. “I am guilty of it, all of us are guilty of it. But his best thing is he hasn’t been coached for too long. He started late and he’s got great size and natural ability and he has fun playing. I mean, he’s the same every day. He doesn’t say much but he enjoys playing the game.”
On draft day last April, the Lions had their choice of pass rushers available when they went on the clock with the fifth pick. Ansah was at the top of the list. LSU’s Barkevious Mingo was also on the board and ended up going next to the Browns.
“If I were buying guys,” Cunningham said, “and a guy was 6-5, 285 pounds and ran the 200 meters in 21.6 seconds, I know who I’m taking.”
Mingo has 12 tackles, three sacks and four pass deflections. Ansah has 14 tackles, three sacks, one pass breakup and two forced fumbles. No regrets on either side.
“I think Mingo is a heck of a player, he really is,” Cunningham said. “But he’s not as big as Ziggy and we needed to get bigger. Our division is so tough, week after week. We’ve been through the shorter, smaller, faster guys. Now we’ve got some bigger guys and I like that.”
Cunningham likes to define players in two camps — flash players and those who produce consistently for a long period of time. He projects Ansah to the second group.
“His future is bright,” Cunningham said. “Ziggy stays within himself. He’s not a showboat. There’s a lot of blessings when it comes to him.”