Last year, Detroit Lions defensive end Ezekiel Ansah missed all of training camp and it showed. For the first month of the season, he was barely pulling in over 50 percent of the snaps, with just 14 tackles and 4.0 sacks at the Lions’ Week 7 bye.
Things were looking like Ansah may be off to another slow start this year, with the Lions placing him on the Physically Unable to Perform list for the second straight start of training camp. This week, Ansah returned to training camp, just before the Lions’ first preseason game. While he wouldn’t admit how much missing training camp set him back last season, he did stress just how important camp is to him this year.
“Training camp is very big heading into the season,” Ansah told reporters after practice. “I think every player really needs that. I’ve been out for a week and some change and I’m just happy to be back out here participating with the team.”
At 29 years old, this season is critical to Ansah’s future in the league. For the past few years, he’s been battling injuries that have limited both his availability and his effectiveness. Now that he’s scheduled to become a free agent after this season, his 2018 performance could be the difference between a huge payday and a modest prove-it deal next offseason.
For now, Ansah isn’t focused on that.
“The future is going to take care of itself,” he told reporters who asked about his contract negotiations this offseason.
Of course, getting Ansah back is huge for the Lions too. Detroit doesn’t have a lot of talent at the pass-rusher position. That has become abundantly clear at camp. For a team that only managed 35 total sacks last year—12 of which belonged to Ansah—they are going to need all the help they can get. Ansah is the biggest help available.
But this is just the first step in a long process for Ansah. The extra reps in training camp will certainly help him get ready for Week 1’s game against the New York Jets, but Ansah will also have to prove he can maintain that health throughout a full 16-game season.