Anthony Zettel's latest athletic feat? Emerging on Lions' defensive line

From ESPN - August 11, 2017

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- He put his hands on the ground, eyed the snap count and when he saw the ball move, Anthony Zettel jumped up out of his stance. In less than a second, he seemed to blow by the offensive tackle, whether it was Cyrus Kouandjio or Greg Robinson.

There are caveats here. It came in individual drills. It came during practice against his own teammates where contact is somewhat limited, instead of against opponents who are going to try to flatten him. But some of the things the Detroit Lions needed to see from their second-year defensive end were obvious.

He was leaner. He was faster. He was stronger. His moves, frankly, were much better. The athleticism he previously showed tackling trees, throwing baseballs 94 mph and training in MMA started to show. For a point during the early portion of training camp, he seemed unable to be blocked in the one-on-one drill the Lions use to refine offensive and defensive line drills.

"I have seen him become a better player," defensive end Kerry Hyder said. "I am not sure how much he's gotten better, but I have seen him be sharper, faster. I have seen him be stronger. He worked really hard in the offseason and it's noticeable. I am looking forward to seeing him in the preseason."

Hyder should understand this progression better than most. A year ago at this time, he was a roster afterthought, doing everything he could to stay relevant and put himself in position to make the Lions coaches have to keep him. By the end of the preseason, it worked. Hyder became a breakout player in 2016, leading Detroit with eight sacks.

Every year since Teryl Austin took over the defense, the Lions appear to have a player come somewhat out of nowhere to be a pass-rushing difference-maker on the line. A lot of that has to do with the team's defensive line coach, Kris Kocurek, and how he pushes the linemen. But the evidence is there, with a career year from George Johnson in 2014, a brief-but-tangible evolution of Devin Taylor in 2015 and Hyder last season.

There's a chance Zettel becomes that this season. The second-year pro out of Penn State has flashed more than any other defensive lineman so far in training camp. He's taken advantage of injuries to Ezekiel Ansah and Cornelius Washington, and taken reps mostly with the first team through camp.

To prepare for this possibility in the offseason, he went to Evolution Sports Institute in Pittsburgh, where he trained with other Penn State alumni in the NFL and lived with his best friend, Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jesse James. While there, he focused on getting off the ball and all the drills Kocurek ran him through during last season.


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