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November 17th, 2017
In the second season, West Branch’s
Zettel is a VIP on Lions defense
By KEITH GAVE
As experienced defensive ends competing in big-time college football programs go, there was nothing about Anthony Zettel that set him apart from dozens of others at his position who were hoping to catch the eye of NFL scouts.
Nothing physically imposing about him at 6-foot-4, 277 pounds. But after a prep career on a gridiron carved out of some of the most majestic farmland in Northern Michigan at Ogemaw Height High School in West Branch, Zettel earned a reputation as a leader with the character in spades. He helped guide a resurgent Penn State program out of the darkness following the Jerry Sandusky scandal in the final years under coach Joe Paterno.
Maybe that’s what inspired Lions coaches to travel to Happy Valley to see for themselves what this kid was about.
They worked him hard, and when they asked how he was holding up, he just gave them a look that said, “is that all you got?” So they kept him going.
“I remember our workout with him,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin told reporters Thursday. “We saw that he was tough, worked hard. And we put him through the ringer, and we were like, ‘Want to do some more?’ And he’s like, ‘I got all day.’
“That’s how he works.”
And that’s why, when talent was thinning out in the late rounds of the 2016 NFL draft, the Detroit Lions took a flyer on the local kid from Up North.
Turned out to be a rather fortuitous selection among many in the first draft under new GM Bob Quinn. In the sixth round, with the 202nd overall pick, Anthony Zettel became a Detroit Lion.
He didn’t exactly set the league on fire in his first season, but he cracked the rotation and got his first NFL sack in Week 15 of the season, putting New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning on his back.
When the season ended, however, Zettel really went to work. Between his physical regimen and his diet, he rebuilt himself. From a player on the fringes of a 53-man roster, he became a beast – one of the better defensive ends in the NFL, in his second season. Austin admits he never saw it coming, until training camp before the season.
“His offseason. . . He came back in great shape, better shape than he was in, obviously, last year,” Austin said. “Stronger, moved better. . . really kind of transformed himself into a player.”
The result? Zettel not only has become a mainstay on Detroit’s front four, his six sacks rank among NFL leaders. And Sunday he’ll be at it again, chasing down another mobile rookie quarterback, Mitch Trubisky, at Soldier Field on Sunday. This is an important game – on the road against a divisional opponent. The Lions need to win if they have any hope of catching the 7-2 first-place Minnesota Vikings.
Barely a season-and-a-half into his NFL career, Zettel has shown the kind of Chris Spielman-type qualities and intangibles that personify these Detroit Lions as fashioned by Quinn and coach Jim Caldwell. And Caldwell is beyond surprised, pleased and impressed.
“I’m not certain you could ever kind of imagine he’d be who he is, but you knew he had the kind of drive, discipline, dedication, all of those things that make for a guy making the kind of strides that he’s made,” Caldwell said after Wednesday’s practice in Allen Park. “You don’t make any great projections in this league either because, obviously, it’s difficult. But he’s doing a great job.”
Zettel stepping up has helped a defensive unit plagued by injuries, which is why Detroit ranks around the middle of the pack or lower in many categories on that side of the ball. He and his teammates will need a strong effort against a Bears team that gave Green Bay a good tussle last week.
The Lions offense has been on a roll lately, producing 68 points in the past two weeks. And for the first time all season, Caldwell and offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter will have their full complement of players. The Lions will need all hands on deck against a Chicago defense that can be pretty stingy, especially at home.
Matthew Stafford, who may be the best quarterback in the league at the moment, will be the difference. But keep your eye on No. 69. Anthony Zettel is becoming very much worth the price of admission these days.
Lions (5-4) vs. Chicago Bears (3-6)
1 p.m., Sunday
At Soldier Field, Chicago
TV/Radio: FOX, WQON-FM (100.3)
Line: Lions minus-3
Prediction: Lions 27, Bears 16
No. 19 Michigan (8-2, 5-2 Big Ten) vs. No. 5 Wisconsin (10-0, 7-0).
at Camp Randall Stadium, Madison, Wisconsin
TV/Radio: FOX; WQON-FM (100.3)
Line: Wolverines, plus-7.5
Stuff gets real after three easy wins against Rutgers, stuff gets real for the resurgent Wolverines against the undefeated Badgers. Both teams acquit themselves in a taut, entertaining game. Prediction: Wisconsin 24, Michigan 20
No. 22 Michigan State (7-3, 5-2 Big Ten) vs. Maryland (4-6, 2-5)
4 p.m., Saturday
at Spartan Stadium, East Lansing
Line: Michigan State minus-16.5
The Spartans have shown some resiliency this season, but they have a long way to bounce back after a 45-point loss at Ohio State last week. Pity the poor Terrapins, deploying a fourth-string quarterback against a very angry team. Prediction: Spartans 38, Maryland 9.