A Quick Transition for Jason Ankrah
Patrick D. Starr
When Jason Ankrah arrived from the University of Nebraska (Lincoln), the rookie had been a fixture on the Cornhuskers defensive line playing 49 games with his hand in the dirt. He started 31 games on the edge and was a consistent piece in the Black Shirts defense and totaled 36 tackles, 4 sacks and 9 TFLs his senior season.
The team captain was part of a Nebraska team that won the 2014 Gator Bowl and the Houston Texans saw something in the 6-3 and 262 lbs. lineman and felt they could make him a stand up player. Ankrah arrived in Houston and the organization had no intentions of keeping him at defensive end. When the phone call was placed late in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Texans came calling to Ankrah and it was clear on what they wanted from the raw defensive talent.
Ankrah at his Pro Day impressed the Texans enough on how well he moved for his size and he ran a 4.77 40 yard dash and showed the strength needed for the NFL level (20 reps at 225 lbs.). When he answered the call, there was no hesitation on the change they wanted him to make for the next level.
"Yep, that is what they told me. I wouldn't be a defensive end. I would be an outside linebacker. They thought I moved really well at the pro day and they just took that opportunity with me."
The transition to outside linebacker is not an easy one especially for a player that has only played defensive end in a 4-3 defense. Ankrah mentioned how the change for him was going to his new position, "I'm definitely still getting used to it and embracing the role. It is something different and I never did it before."
Having someone to look up to help his transition is important and that is exactly what Ankrah has here in Houston. His position coach Mike Vrabel made the same change when he entered the league and Ankrah has also turned to a familiar face from his Nebraska days, Jared Crick.
"Coach Vrabel is a great competitive coach and he wants competition more than anything. That is what he is bringing out in me." Ankrah continued, "He wants me to compete and go full speed. He knows I can make the transition."
The familiar face of former college teammate in Jared Crick helped with more than just the transition,
"I didn't know anybody so first person I went to in the locker room was Jared (Crick) and you know I had a bond with him up there. I had the opportunity to play with him for two years so I have that relationship with him."
Crick weighed in on Ankrah coming to Houston,
"I try to show him the ropes the best I can." Crick continued, "You don't want to be one of those guys to try to stunt their progress because they have a chance to make the team. You wanna see everyone do well. You try to be the best vet you can and help them out the best way you can."
The move has not been easy and seeing Ankrah use these practices (starting at rookie mini-camp) to make the transition has been steady and impressive to watch. With a thin outside linebacking position in terms of depth, Ankrah has put a good foot forward to open the coaches eyes. Coach Bill O'Brien went out of his way to talk up the rookie during one of his press conferences during OTAs when asked about the outside linebacker position.
"I think there are some young guys, (Jason) Ankrah from Nebraska looked like he’s been doing some good things."
The real test will come for Ankrah in a little over a month when the full pads are put on during training camp and more will be known. If Ankrah can put together a solid camp he has a real chance of being part of the Texans in some capacity after training camp. If it is on the 53 man roster or the practice squad, the Texans might have found a diamond in the rough with the former defensive end.
The move and expectations are not slowing Ankrah and he will be one to watch heading into training camp. He wanted a chance to prove he could play at the NFL level and the initial return has been a positive one since he arrived in Houston and Ankrah is just fortunate for the opportunity.
"I really didn't know what I was coming into. I just was ready for anything," said Ankrah, "I really didn't know the background here and I just knew I had the opportunity to come here and help out the linebackers."