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It all comes together for Ansah in 3.5 sacks

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News

Detroit — He moves with fury. He speaks in reverse fashion, in a voice so low and even, you strain to hear him.

Ziggy Ansah is a portrait in opposing personalities.

It’s the one he unveils on a NFL football field that is making him one of the league’s hottest, truest line-wrecking, game-changing defensive machines.

Ansah had 3.5 sacks in Thursday’s game at Ford Field, which saw the Lions pulverize the Eagles, 45-14, and make Thanksgiving dinner taste all the more delectable for most in Detroit.

“You know, this is something I’ve been working on for three years,” Ansah said, speaking in the Lions interview room, in a voice that was something akin to that of a bashful student.

What he’s been fighting to do since he was drafted in 2013, and before, is harness all that talent. All that furious potential. A man of exquisite athleticism who needed time to add finesse and NFL-caliber grace is looking in 2015 like the potential all-pro Detroit had expected when he was grabbed out of Brigham Young.

Ansah is tied for the NFL lead in sacks with 11.5. He is 26. And yet, he has been playing football only since he was a teen. A man born in Ghana, raised on soccer, is making clear why Lions then-general manager Martin Mayhew 30 months ago invested a fifth overall pick in Ansah.

“To lead the NFL,” he said, his voice losing steam as he pondered being the league’s leader in sacks. “Man, I just come out here to play. The whole team came out here to play. I’m just grateful I was able to put the quarterback down.”

Four times, in fact.

Ansah did it against an Eagles offensive front that, well, wasn’t offering thanks to the Lions on a holiday Thursday in Detroit.

He had been expected to spend four quarters in a hammer-lock with gifted Eagles offensive tackle Jason Peters. But that was before Peters disappeared early Thursday with a sprained ankle.

Lane Johnson moved from right tackle to Peters’ empty slot at left tackle. Ansah, all 6-foot-5, 278 pounds of him, acted as if a restaurant waiter had just told him there was no more filet and he’d have to order something else.

He wasn’t happy.

It was one more reason, perhaps, to maul a team that had bypassed him in the 2013 draft, taking instead, yes, one Lane Johnson.

“I didn’t think this question was coming,” Ansah said, a hint of voltage in his monotone. “But I was looking forward to playing against Peters. And then he got hurt.

“They moved Lane over there and, yeah, I think I took it (the draft sequence) personal.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell was as delighted in speaking Thursday about Ansah as he was in dissecting a 31-point trouncing.

“I don’t think anybody knows exactly how good he can be with the limited amount of football that he’s played in comparison to most guys his age,” Caldwell said.

“I mean, every single year you look at his body. He’s a pretty unusual guy. If I’m not mistaken, when we checked his body comp he had the second-lowest fat percentage on our football team.

“He’s a pretty unique individual. He’s blessed with some unique gifts.”

There had been an episode on the Lions sideline during Thursday’s flesh feast, the Lions’ third consecutive victory. It was one of those coach-player moments of intimacy, of hugs and words shared.

It was an interlude only Ansah and Lions defensive line coach Kris Kocurek could have appreciated adequately.

“He said, ‘This is what we’ve been working on for so long,’ you know?” Ansah said. “He was proud of me. “I’m just grateful that he trusted in me.”

The trust has been earned. As for any distrust, it likely will be reserved for opposing quarterbacks, and for what they fear could be the limits of their linemen against that rising Lions sackmaster.