Zenner’s chances at Lions’ roster spot steadily improving

Austin Hamm Sports Editor

Former South Dakota State standout running back Zach Zenner is still striving to make his NFL dream come true. NFL teams cut their rosters from 90 players to 75 on Tuesday, and Zenner made the cut with the Detroit Lions, who signed him after he went undrafted in this year’s NFL draft. The teams will be trimming down to their 53-man roster for the season by Saturday afternoon, and many will be watching to see if Zenner has locked up the fourth running back spot behind veterans Joique Bell, Theo Riddick and fellow rookie Ameer Abdullah.

Zenner has won himself many fans, both in the Lions organization and in the NFL fanbase, with his all around skill set after being pigeon holed as a powerback in the pre-draft process, when some even suggested he make the switch to fullback.

That school of thought has proven to be false, as Zenner leads the league in preseason rushing yards with 167 on 25 carries through three games. He got 13 carries for 55 yards in the Lions’ first preseason game, along with one reception for just one yard, but his performance went to another level in their next two.

In their second preseason game against the Washington Redskins, Zenner totaled 22 rushing yards on four carries, but also added 59 receiving yards. Most of that came on the Lions’ touchdown drive, where he had three carries for 19 yards, and a pair of receptions, one going for 36 yards, and the other being a 5-yard score.

In Detroit’s most recent preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Zenner romped his way to 85 yards on the ground on just eight carries, including a 41-yard burst in the second quarter and a three-yard score in the fourth where he dug in and moved a pile of what seemed like half the Jacksonville defense across the goal line.

Lions’ Head Coach Jim Caldwell spoke to the media on Tuesday about what he would tell players who are battling for a spot on the 53-man roster, like Zenner.

“I tell them, ‘In this league, there’s a crack that opens up about that wide and it’s only open for a very, very short period of time. So when it’s open, you better get in it, OK, and you better get in it right now because it won’t be long, that thing will close and it’s a tough opportunity for you to get in. You’ll be out.’” Caldwell said. “They got to take advantage of the opportunity that they have. It’s up to them and, I think our guys are ready for that.”

The Lions finish up their preseason schedule on Thursday against the Buffalo Bills. As a back battling for an end-of-the-depth-chart spot, Zenner can be expected to receive a steady diet of touches. Second-year backs George Winn and Emil Iwenagu appear to be Zenner’s primary competition for the fourth running back spot, so their workload is worth monitoring for Zenner fans.