By: Will Burchfield
The Lions stand to get a massive boost on Sunday if defensive end Ezekiel Ansah returns to action.
And it's looking more and more like that will happen.
Ansah went down with a high ankle sprain in the first quarter of the Lions home opener. That was back in Week 2 and he hasn't played since. But he returned to practice on Wednesday for the first time since suffering the injury and Jim Caldwell offered an optimistic update on Ansah on Friday.
"Trending in the right direction," Caldwell said.
The coach tentatively named Ansah one of the three captains for Sunday's game, when the Lions will take on the Los Angeles Rams at Ford Field.
"Sam Martin, Riley Reiff and if he continues to progress it'll be Ziggy," said Caldwell.
On Friday, after the Lions practice, Ansah spoke with reporters for the first time in several weeks.
"Do I feel like I could play Sunday? I come out every week just to practice and get ready for Sunday so if I'm called upon I'll be ready to go," he said.
Asked if he feels ready physically, he responded – carefully so – in the affirmative.
"It's been feeling good, yeah," he said.
The Lions have struggled to mount a consistent pass rush in Ansah's absence. He was coming off a season in which he recorded 14.5 sacks, just 1 sack shy of the franchise's single-season record.
"He's a Pro Bowl player and you miss those guys. You'd like to say you don't miss them and we've had guys that have done an outstanding job in his absence, but they're not Ziggy," said defensive coordinator Teryl Austin on Wednesday. "He has a special skillset.
"I mean you look throughout the league, there's not a lot of guys like him. You know, 6-5, 270, (who) run the way he does, play as hard as he does. So we miss him and whenever we get him back we'll be glad to have him back, that's for sure."
The Lions have twelve sacks in five games, which is tied for ninth in the NFL. But according to ProFootballFocus, their pass rush ranks last in the league. Without Ansah, Austin admitted the Lions have been limited in their attack at the line of scrimmage.
"There's certain things you can't count on I guess, in terms of consistent speed, all that stuff on the outside, you're going to lose that. You're going to lose maybe a few things that you might game-plan in terms of rush games because the other guys don't run it like he does," Austin said.
Ansah sounds like he's itching to return.
"It's hard not being out there being able to help the team, but I've been making good progress and I'm looking forward to getting out there," he said.
And that may happen as soon as Sunday.
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