Camp Spotlight: Running back Zach Zenner

Posted Aug 15, 2016

Tim Twentyman tracks the performance of running back Zach Zenner during training camp practice.


Position: Running back

Ht./Wt.: 5-11, 222

College: South Dakota State

Experience: 2nd season

Outlook: After making the 53-man roster last season as an undrafted free agent, Zenner was just starting to get into a groove running the football when he suffered cracked ribs and a partially collapsed lung after taking a big hit Week 6 vs. Chicago. The injury ended his rookie season.

Now Zenner is healthy and trying to prove he belongs on the 53-man roster once again.

Nothing he does is particularly flashy. He’s just a good all around football player -- One of those players that can do it all, whether it's running the ball, catching it out of the backfield, pass protecting or being a core member on special teams.

In a few weeks, the Lions will have to decide if they’re going to keep four running backs and a fullback on the initial regular-season roster, which is what they’ve done in each of the last two seasons under head coach Jim Caldwell. If that’s the case, Zenner is competing with Stevan Ridley, Dwayne Washington and George Winn for the last two spots behind Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.

Zenner, Ridley and Winn all bring a between-the-tackles element to the backfield. Of that group, Zenner is the best receiver by far.

Washington, who impressed during his preseason debut last week, has a unique blend of size and speed unique to the entire running back group. He was also drafted in the seventh round this year.

Zenner rushed for 24 yards on seven carries in the preseason opener last week, and caught three passes for another 32 yards. He was the second running back to enter the game after Riddick (Abdullah sat out).

Practice report: Zenner showed off some of his versatility during seven-on-seven drills in Monday’s practice. Not only did he line up in the backfield, but in a couple reps, he lined up as an outside receiver.

As a runner, he was able to find a hole during a goal-line drill against the defense and get himself into the end zone. He has a knack for finding holes, no matter how small they might be.

This past Saturday, Zenner said that after watching the film from the first preseason game, he thought he could have done better technique-wise in pass protection. On his first rep in the last team portion of practice Monday, Zenner was asked to stay in the pocket and help protect the quarterback . He found himself between Dan Orlovsky and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata. Not really a fair matchup there, but Zenner stepped up and took Ngata on without hesitation.

Quotable: “He’s a valuable member of our special teams, but he’s also a guy that’s very, very versatile from the backfield,” Caldwell said of Zenner. 'He can run the ball, he’s got a knack that he can make you miss. 

“He also has an uncanny ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and find seams. He’s a well-rounded player, very smart, makes very few mistakes.”