SHAWN WINDSOR: Best is yet to come from Lions’ Ziggy Ansah

Ziggy Ansah is still learning how to play football. He’s got the talking-to-reporters thing down.

Here’s the Lions’ star defensive end on whether he’d like to break the team’s sack record:

“It would be nice to do that. (But) my main purpose is to help my team win.”

Here he is on his growing reputation within the league:

“It’s not just about me.”

And here he is on playing this season in the final year of his contract:

“Not paying attention.”

Ansah, who is 27 and set to enter his fourth NFL season, came to Detroit as the No. 5 overall pick in 2013 with little football experience. He’d started one season at Brigham Young and played sparingly as a junior.

Before that?

He ran track and kept trying out for the basketball team, which is partly why he moved to Provo, Utah, from his native Ghana. Education was important. But he really dug LeBron James.

When it became clear his gifts were better suited to football, he made the switch. The Lions are grateful he did.

“He has really developed into a quality talent,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said. “I think that’s probably an understatement for a guy that’s been to a Pro Bowl, but the fact of the matter is he has still yet to scratch the surface of where he is capable of being.”

And where is that?

How about best pass rusher in football?

Yes, he’s that talented.

Think about it: Ansah hadn’t even heard of the sport until he moved to he United States to attend BYU. He doesn’t carry any institutional memory of how defensive ends are supposed to play. He doesn’t carry a life-long file in his brain of plays and alignments and drills.

He is still learning where to be, when to be there, and how to recognize the cues that lead him. Sometimes he bolts off the line of scrimmage so explosively he might take a half step in the wrong direction and overshoot the runner or the quarterback.

Expect fewer of those miscues this season.

As Caldwell points out: “He’s got a real good feel of his responsibilities. Not a whole lot of thinking going on now.”

The combination of speed, power, size and intuition is devastating. This is where Ansah is headed.

But, you guessed it, he isn’t interested in talking about that much, either. He’s more interested in discussing his defensive line teammates, and how they spend time together off the field, and how there is enough talent in the group that teams won’t be able to single him out.

Even though that is exactly what teams are going to do this fall.

“I think he is one of those guys that will draw a whole lot of attention,” Caldwell said. “You have to know where he is.”

Of course you do.

Ansah had 141/2 sacks last year — a half sack short of the franchise record. Still, that’s nothing compared to where the Lions think he can get. Defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said this year that Ansah has a shot at 20 sacks.

Yes, 20.

So what does Ansah think of such talk?

Well, not much.

His goal is the same as it has been the last few years — double-digit sacks. Achieve that, and you’re causing havoc.

Something Ansah is learning to do as well as anyone in football. The trick is for the Lions to figure out a way to keep him, because the last time the franchise had a defensive player this gifted, he bolted for Miami.

But Ansah isn’t going to think about that, either.

“I just want to help the team win,” he said.

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Posted by Tribune News Services

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