When the Lions signed Zach Zenner as an undrafted rookie in May, he looked like the classic training camp body who won’t make an NFL roster. Yes, Zenner had outstanding stats in college — three straight 2,000-yard rushing seasons — but it was at South Dakota State, which isn’t exactly a hotbed for NFL talent.
But through two preseason games, Zenner is putting on the kind of performance that will make it tough for the Lions to cut him. He looked good in Detroit’s first preseason game last week, and last night in the second preseason game he was even better: Zenner had four carries for 22 yards and five catches for 59 yards and a touchdown, plus a 45-yard run that was called back by a holding penalty.
The Lions’ website notes that Zenner is making a strong push for a roster spot with his preseason play, but Zenner says he thinks it’s on the practice field where he’s drawn the coaches’ eyes.
“The only statement I’m trying to make is on the practice field every day,” he said.
It may be tough for Zenner to make the numbers work in the Lions’ backfield: Joique Bell is the incumbent starter, Ameer Abdullah is a very promising second-round pick, and the Lions’ coaches love the versatility of Theo Riddick. If the Lions keep a fourth running back, George Winn may have a better shot than Zenner because Winn has more experience playing special teams.
But Zenner has changed perceptions with his solid preseason play. When he signed as an undrafted rookie, he looked like one of the last players on the 90-man roster. Through two weeks, he looks like he has a real shot of making the 53-man roster. For a young player in his first preseason, that’s a great accomplishment.