By Will Burchfield
When Ezekiel Ansah went down with an ankle injury in Week 2, Kerry Hyder was only beginning to make his mark in the NFL. Now, nearly four weeks later, his imprint is impossible to miss.
For Ansah, Hyder's startling rise to stardom has been something to smile about during his recovery.
"Oh man, amazing, amazing player out there, I've been watching him," Ansah said on Friday. "I don't think anybody's more excited for him than I am."
That can be debated – Hyder has talked about having quite the support system at home. What can't be debated is the emphatic nature of Hyder's emergence and his sudden value on this Lions team.
On the bubble before final cut day last month, Hyder parlayed a last-gasp effort in the preseason into a spot on the 53-man roster. He quickly justified it with two sacks in the Lions' season-opener. Then, when Ansah went down a week later, Hyder slid into a starting role and hasn't missed a beat.
Through five games he has five sacks, which is tops on the team and fifth in the league.
"When somebody goes out, somebody has to step up and he has done an amazing job of that," Ansah said.
When Ansah made the Pro Bowl last season, he took the rest of the Lions' defensive line with him.
"We're a brotherhood on and off the field," he told the Detroit Free Press.
So despite his inability to play in the past three games, Ansah hasn't neglected his duties as a cheerleader. He gets so exited when he watches the games on TV, in fact, that he often finds himself jumping to his feet, sprained ankle and all.
And no player has brought Ansah out of his chair more than Hyder.
"I get crazy when I'm home and he gets a sack. Then I'm like, 'Oh wait, hold up, sit down,'" Ansah laughed. "But I'm really excited for him – for what he's doing for us and for himself also, and I know he's going to continue to do exactly what he's doing."
On Sunday, Ansah may be doing it with him. The fearsome defensive end returned to practice this week and is trending toward a Week 6 return. Between Ansah, Hyder and Devin Taylor, the Lions' defensive end corps is shaping up as one of the strongest units on the team.
"The more good players you have on the team, the better it is," Ansah said.
If Ansah does indeed play on Sunday, when the Lions take on the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field, it remains to be seen how his return will affect Hyder's playing time.
"We'll have to wait until we get (Ansah) back, but I think Kerry Hyder has earned an opportunity to play," defensive coordinator Teryl Ausin said on Thursday. "I'm not sure he'll play as much as he has been playing, obviously, if you've got Ziggy back, but he's still going to play a lot for us because he's done an outstanding job for us.
"His core traits haven't changed in terms of how hard he plays, the ability to give us some plays, and the guy does have the ability to get to the quarterback, so we're going to continue to grow Kerry as much as we can."
If Hyder keeps up his current pace, he just may find himself headed to this year's Pro Bowl (although he was dubiously left off the first ballot, which was released on Thursday). And if that happens, it's not hard to imagine which of his teammates he might invite first.
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