Small-school star Zach Zenner turning heads in Detroit

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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.

29 responses to “Small-school star Zach Zenner turning heads in Detroit

  1. The dude runs hard. He definitely stood out last night. I feel like they have to give him a roster spot. He’s the type of guy that could at least be a beast on special teams.

  2. ZZ looks runs, catches and shows the instincts and vision of an NFL calibre RB. There’s no way to stash him on the practice squad. One way or another, barring injury, he will make some team’s 53 man roster.

  3. I’m sure every other fan base is no different in having a “Peoples Choice” underdog everyone’s rooting for, this year, Zenner’s the dude…

  4. Upper midwest kid who carried a program on his back. You got a humble, hard working guy with a proven track record, unlike those divas from the south spending their signing bonuses on gold chains and tennis shoes.

    Now THIS, is a football player.

  5. Joique Bell was in a similar situation with the Bilks a few years ago. They had Lynch, Fred Jackson and CJ Spiller and had to let Bell go. He’ll get a shot eventually if he keeps turning heads

  6. Winn has shown nothing that would convince me he should make the team over Zenner. As far as special teams go, Zenner made the tackle on the only punt coverage that I noticed he was in.

  7. Zach played his college ball an hour from where I used to live. He’s the real deal between the lines and will never make a headline for anything that would embarrass himself or the team. Even though he’s with a division rival I’m pulling for him to make it.

  8. Whether or not he makes the Lions roster, let’s not forget that the preseason is also about putting your talent on display for 31 other teams. I wish this kid the best.

  9. Love it when the small school players make it to the NFL. This university brought players from my Boston high school out there in the late 60″s. I believe long time NFL assistant and head coach Ron Erhart was the coach.

  10. Confidence. Confidence. Confidence. They have more to prove , and they want to prove it. Fred Jackson. James Harrison. It’s about telling them they can’t, and watching them do it.

  11. I hate to say it, but the Pats love these kinds of players. He’d thrive in that system.

  12. Played high school ball at the stadium pretty much across the street from my house. #localbrag

    Seriously, this kid isn’t huge, but he’s fast, has good hands, and has that innate ability to just move enough to make people miss. Seems like he can play in the big leagues so far.

  13. Great story. I hope the kid makes it.

    We need more players like this and fewer players like Marcel Doofus complaining about “only” being offered $90M.

  14. The Leos are not going to cut him.

    Also, this kid hasn’t played a down in the NFL and some of you are expressing a preference for him over proven veterans? Says more about you than them. We get it.

  15. corporatemediaprostitute says:
    Aug 21, 2015 12:18 PM

    The Leos are not going to cut him.

    Also, this kid hasn’t played a down in the NFL and some of you are expressing a preference for him over proven veterans? Says more about you than them. We get it.

    Because it’s a good story. Everyone likes the underdog…except you apparently.

  16. He’ll make the team as a special teams guy. Lions won’t be cutting him. For Theo Riddick, who seems like a great guy, this is yet another kid gunning for his job.

  17. George Winn may have more experience on special teams but Zenner is a better runner, much better receiver and has better potential on special teams. Is like to see him get some reps with the 1st team in the 3rd pre-season game. He could develop into J Bells role as Joique ages out. He fun to watch.

  18. barstoolio says:
    Aug 21, 2015 10:47 AM
    He may be from a small school but he played big verses Nebraska with 202 yards rushing and two TD’s against the Cornhuskers.

    Is that the same vaunted Nebraska defense that allowed Melvin Gordon III to break the single game rushing in less than 3 quarters of work?


  19. If Detroit can’t find a way to fit him on the active roster I have trouble seeing him make it through waivers to be placed on the practice squad.

    I can see him easily landing in Cleveland, Arizona (after ditching CJ), Dallas (if the injury bug keeps biting) or even New England. Not only is he on a rookie deal, but an UFA one at that. High upside with low cost and no off field concerns finds jobs in the NFL.

  20. Against the same competition level he has outplayed Winn by a huge margin. If Winn is better than him on Special Teams, it can’t be too much. If the Coaches do plan on cutting him, I would think with all the tape on him, Mayhew would try and squeeze a late round pick in a trade similar to the Safety to Seattle.

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