ANSAH GIVES LIONS ANOTHER LOOK
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah was in Honolulu Blue and silver and on the field for the first time.
The Detroit Lions, though, knew they were going to like what they saw from Ansah because they spent a week with him at the Senior Bowl in January.
“This is not the first practice we’ve had with Ziggy Ansah,” Lions coach Jim Schwartz said. “We had the whole week of practice and the whole game day at the Senior Bowl so, it wasn’t our first look at him.
“We knew what to expect from him athletically. ... you can tell that everything’s new to him, but he picks things up quickly.”
Ansah grew up in Ghana and played soccer, basketball and ran track before putting on football pads for the first time in 2010 at BYU.
Three years later, Detroit drafted him with the No. 5 pick overall.
“It’s an exciting time for me,” Ansah said Friday after signing a five-year contract. “I did the contract. That was over with, so all I had to do was focus on the practice.”
As a high pick for a team hoping to bounce back from a 4-12 season, much of the focus will be on Ansah. While playing alongside Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley on Detroit’s defensive line, he is going to try to block out the pressure to produce and prove he should’ve been drafted where he was by the Lions.
“I talked to a few people about that, if I think about that, I am going to make mistakes on the field,” he said
Ansah did acknowledge having a moment in which it hit him that he truly has become an NFL player, making a remarkable leap to the league, when he was in the Lions’ locker room.
“For a split second, it was a sigh of relief,” he said. “It was like taking a deep breath, letting it all out and it was time to work.”
As much as it helped Detroit’s decision to draft Ansah because they saw him practice and play at the Senior Bowl, it assisted him in his first practice-like situation with the Lions because of what he went through in Mobile, Ala.
“It was really helpful,” he said. “It was pretty much the same thing we were doing.”
Detroit signed all of its draft picks before taking the field for minicamp, but second-round pick Darius Slay was unable to do anything other than sit in on meetings and do upper-body work in the weight room. The former Mississippi State cornerback had surgery to repair a torn meniscus.
GENO’S SELF-ASSESSMENT: AN ‘F’
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Geno Smith was surrounded by a throng of reporters, a crowded scene usually more appropriate for a No. 1 draft pick than a second-rounder.
But Smith, of course, isn’t your ordinary No. 39 selection. And, the New York Jets are certainly used to their quarterbacks — and backup quarterbacks, for that matter — getting this type of attention.
“I just come out,” Smith said Friday, “and be my natural self.”
Who that is, exactly, has been open to some debate in recent weeks as Smith has taken lots of criticism for his abilities on the field — despite a record-breaking career at West Virginia — and his attitude off it. Various published reports painted Smith as an immature diva who didn’t always take football seriously enough.
“Maybe I don’t know what the diva behavior looks like,” coach Rex Ryan said. “I never saw that at all.”
Smith’s free fall from potential top-10 pick, and his reported decision — and later, change of heart — to leave New York rather than return to the draft site at Radio City Music Hall added to the perception. As did Smith firing his two agents shortly after the draft.
He’s done with all that. Still without an agent, Smith is ready to move on to football again.
“I think it’s been a more eventful few weeks for the media,” Smith said. “My only job is to focus on what I have here and get better.”
And there’s plenty to do, if you ask Smith, who said all the right things after his first practice of rookie minicamp.
“I’m going to be tough on myself,” Smith said. “I’ll let the coaches do the grading, but if I say it, it’s an F because I want to be an A-plus.
“Hey man, that’s just the way I do things.”
Despite the tough self-evaluation, the quarterback looked pretty good during practice. Smith appeared to have a solid working knowledge of the playbook, and zipped many of his passes — mostly in short yardage — around the field.
“I’ve been studying my butt off, learning formations, learning protections,” said Smith, wearing No. 7 because his old No. 12 from his college days is Joe Namath’s retired number. “I think I did a good job overall today. There were some bumps in the road. Those are things I think I can clean up.”
He also worked under center most of the time, something he wasn’t used to doing during his time at West Virginia. Smith hesitated a few times on some throws, and was even yelled at by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg for failing to pull off a play-action bootleg pass.
Rookie jitters? Smith won’t go there.
“There are no excuses here,” Smith said. “We’ve all got to study our playbooks and be prepared for practice. If he felt like I needed to pick things up, then he’ll get on me, which he did. I’m receptive to that, and I did what he asked of me.”
Yes, the man some outside the Jets organization anonymously labeled as not very coachable said all the right things after practice, appearing humble and clear of his role on the team.
While many assume that will be to someday become the Jets’ starting quarterback, Smith refused to look too far ahead.
“I have a job to do as of right now, and that’s to come in and compete,” he said. “Right now, there’s a long ways to go in that process. This is only Step 1, Day 1, but it was fun to get out here on the practice field and enjoy my teammates and coaches.”
The plan is to have Smith compete for the starting job this summer with Mark Sanchez and David Garrard, as well as Greg McElroy and Matt Simms — although those two likely have no realistic shot at winning it. Smith said he was told that Sanchez will get “the majority of the reps” in training camp.
TE’O TAKES THE FIELD
SAN DIEGO (AP) — Manti Te’o practiced for the first time with the San Diego Chargers on Friday determined to push the infamous girlfriend hoax and his lackluster national championship play into the past.
“I’m here to play football,” the Chargers’ second-round draft pick said on the opening of the rookie minicamp. “I’m not focusing on what is going on on the outside. I’m worried about what we’re doing here in San Diego and I’m looking forward to when the veterans come in on Monday.”
The Chargers traded up in the second round of last month’s NFL draft to select the standout linebacker from Notre Dame. He arrived in San Diego with plenty of credentials and a back story that has transcended sports.
He slipped out of the opening round of the draft in part because of a poor performance in the national championship game against Alabama.
Te’o also became the butt of national jokes after it was revealed he was duped into an Internet romance with a girlfriend he never met and who never actually existed.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy wasn’t interested in talking about Te’o’s past.
“We’re moving on. He’s one of ours now and we’re going to win a lot of football games with him,” he said.
Te’o looked comfortable in the roughly 30 minutes the practice was open to the media. He was inserted into the inside linebacker spot after being in the front-and-center in the stretching part of the workout.
“You feel like you are a freshman again,” last year’s Heisman Trophy finalist said about his new surroundings at Chargers Park. “Football is still football, but there is different terminology and verbiage. That is the biggest change for everybody because we’re used to things being called a certain way.”
Te’o is already in the mix for a starting job. The Chargers, under rookie general manager Tom Telesco, have rid themselves of many veteran players. That leaves a hope at inside linebacker opposite starter Donald Butler, and Te’o will be given every chance to fill it.
“When you take a player like we did, where we did, you want them to come in and play,” McCoy said. “We are going to plug him in there on Monday and he will be in that first huddle with everybody else.”
HOPKINS STANDS OUT FOR TEXANS
Houston (AP) — DeAndre Hopkins has been doing a lot of talking as the Houston Texans’ first-round pick.
On Friday, the Clemson wide receiver got to what he really likes to do and he didn’t disappoint anyone.
Hopkins made several good plays as rookie camp began, but really wowed the coaches when he went up over a defender and snagged a pass with one hand.
“It was just kind of instinct,” he said. “I couldn’t get my other hand on it, so I just kind of put one hand up there and it stuck in it.”
It was exactly the kind of start the Texans were looking for from Hopkins, who they drafted 27th overall in hopes of finally adding a big-time playmaker to line up opposite star Andre Johnson. He’s the first receiver they’ve drafted in the opening round since Johnson, now 31, was taken third overall in 2003.
Coach Gary Kubiak was impressed.
“He’s very competitive, that’s No. 1 and we knew that,” Kubiak said. “Has tremendous hands, big hands, so he has no problem with the ball. I loved the competitive nature of him just watching him out here today.”
Hopkins was glad to get to work after a whirlwind couple of weeks filled with appearances and interviews.
“It felt great just to put on the helmet,” he said. “I’ve been doing a bunch of talking, and I felt like a president almost being up on podiums and talking. So it felt great just to come out here just doing what I love.”
The Biletnikoff Award semi-finalist led Clemson with 82 receptions for 1,405 yards and 18 touchdowns as a junior last season. His 24 catches of 20 yards or more were the most in the ACC.
The Texans need him to contribute immediately after cutting veteran Kevin Walter after the season and because of an injury to DeVier Posey, a third-round pick a year ago. Posey started contributing on offense late last season, but tore his Achilles tendon in Houston’s playoff loss and is likely to miss a lot of time this season.
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