Zach Zenner has given the Lions run game some respectability over the last two weeks, and that has the Seattle Seahawks taking notice.
"He's doing such a great job of cutbacks and hitting the hole," Seattle Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett said of Zenner this week. "He's a really good back.
"I know all the stuff he did in college, three straight seasons of 2,000 yards. I don't care where you at, if you can do that you got amazing talent.
"And I think he's just an amazing running back, the things he can do with the ball. He's got good balance. He can spin. He can catch it out of the backfield. I think he fits the offense perfectly."
Zenner ran for a career-high 67 yards two weeks ago in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys on just 12 carries, then topped that with 69 yards rushing last week in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. He also had 41 receiving yards against the Packers, giving him 110 total for the game.
Zenner played sparingly last year as a rookie before going on IR with fractured ribs and a collapsed lung. He entered the year behind Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, and for a time rookie Dwayne Washington. Zenner's since passed Washington on the depth chart, and with Abdullah and Riddick both on IR, has become Detroit's lead back heading into the playoffs.
"That's always the goal, with whatever opportunities, I'm to make the most of them and do my best," Zenner said. "It means a lot. It means a lot from the coaching side of it that they're willing to give me this opportunity, and also it just means a lot for my career as a player just being able to come in here and have able opportunities to show what I can do."
The Lions will need Zenner to continue his solid play as they begin their playoff run Saturday in Seattle, but that won't be an easy task. Seattle ranks seventh in the NFL in stopping the run (92.9 yards per game). Seattle's also third in sacks with 42, which is why getting the run game going early on and sticking with it throughout will be key to keeping Seattle's talented pass rushers somewhat at bay.
"Really reliable, consistent, running where he's supposed to, running where the holes are, running where the defense isn't, you know," Lions offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said of Zenner.
"Holding onto the ball better and better, valuable in the pass game, valuable in protection, does a good job for us and just taking advantage of his opportunity, I think, playing well."
FULL STEAM AHEAD
Jim Caldwell and his coaching staff, along with the players, have a singular focus on Saturday's game against the Seahawks, but general manager Bob Quinn and his personnel department always have to be thinking bigger picture.
In an interview on SiriusXM NFL Radio Wednesday night, Quinn talked a little bit about what his staff is up to at this point in the season.
"Some of the reserve/futures signings that are happening across the league, which are players you're signing for next year, we're talking to a lot of those people now and you'll see some of those signings here in the next week or so," Quinn said. "I think that's an important part of the team-building process."
Quinn said his scouting department is also quite busy around this time.
"Our college scouts are at home right now after the bowl season is over," he said. "They're doing cross-check reports and they're preparing for the All-Star games here in a couple weeks.
"Our pro scouts are working on free agency. They're working on advanced opponents for possible playoff opponents if we keep going into the next round.
"So, just because the regular season is over, it's really full steam ahead for the personnel department."
Haloti Ngata's been in the league a long time, and has seen a lot of good rookie defensive linemen along the way.
But A'Shawn Robinson has been one of the most impressive to date.
"A'Shawn can be a great player," Ngata said Thursday. "He's growing and will continue to grow. One of the best rookie d-lineman I've seen progress during a season as a rookie."
Robinson, the team's second-round pick this past offseason, has worked his way into the starting lineup the second half of the year and finished the regular season with 30 tackles, two sacks and got his hand on seven passes.
"Usually you kind of see rookies taper off at the end of the season," Ngata said. "He's gotten better and better. That's great. He's taking all the information in, all the teaching advice, and just goes with it. He's going to be a great player."
Captains for this week's Wild Card matchup are: Quarterback Matthew Stafford, safety Glover Quin and punter Sam Martin.