Ezekiel Ansah growing into a force for Detroit Lions

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- LaAdrian Waddle shook his head when he heard the number. The topic was his teammate, Ezekiel Ansah, and while he has an appreciation for how much the Detroit Lions defensive end has grown, the number put it in perspective.

On Thursday against Chicago, Pro Football Focus credited Ansah with 10 quarterback hurries of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

"Damn," Waddle said. "That's insane."

It's also been coming and everyone on the Detroit Lions has been seeing it. Ansah was drafted as a potentially raw, possibly developmental project with the fifth pick of the 2013 draft. His talent was evident. His potential was immense. His actual time playing football was limited after he arrived at BYU a basketball player.

Waddle first realized the growth a month before Ansah's 10-hurry barrage. Typically, Waddle focuses on coaching adjustments between offensive series and occasionally glances up to see what is going on during a game. Against Minnesota, with Ansah lined up against Matt Kalil, every time Waddle looked up, Ansah was making yet another play.

"Minnesota, when he was giving Kalil the work," Waddle said. "That's when I saw the difference."

It's a difference showing up every week. That Minnesota game stood out to many, in part because Ansah recorded five tackles, 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. Every week, though, Ansah is making some sort of improvement his arsenal.

Last season, he was still raw and learning the game. This season, he is still learning, but it is a different type of learning. He's not learning how to play, he's learning the intricacies of the game as he understands different fronts and how different linemen will approach different strategies.

He's been incorporating that now with the physical things coaches can't teach. What other players can try all they want to replicate but have no real chance of doing so.

Longtime center Dominic Raiola couldn't pick a specific Ansah play that stood out, but laughed as he said Ansah appears to be physically growing throughout the season. Yet as he grows, defensive tackle Caraun Reid said, he hasn't lost his speed.

It's speed and size and strength Reid saw a year before he was teammates with Ansah. He watched the Senior Bowl for the first time in 2013 because he realized there was a chance he would be playing in it one day. He remembers not knowing much about Ansah and some of the other players he watched that day, but it made him glad he was returning to Princeton for his final season.

Then he started playing with Ansah and the appreciation level for what the 6-foot-6, 278-pound second-year pro does escalated even more.

"His effort is incredible," Reid said. "You look at the way he, you'll see plays where he's on the field and yeah, he gets sacks, TFLs and all that, but you see his hustle down the field, literally zoom past people, and you're like ‘Dang, he's quick.'

"He hustles and gives maximum effort on each play and that's the reason he stands out, regardless if he's getting off the ball or getting downfield."

Lions coach Jim Caldwell lauded Ansah's movement as he has made 40 tackles with 6.5 sacks this season. Reid recalled watching a play against Arizona on tape after the game and seeing Ansah go from off the screen past everyone on the screen to help make a tackle from the other side of the field.

To a guy like Reid, a rookie, it is inspiring and helps drive him because he has to line up next to him. Here, though, is the potentially scary part for opposing offensive lines in the future.

"I don't think he's scratched the surface of just how good he's going to be," Caldwell said. "He's some kind of player and he's developing by leaps and bounds."