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O'HARA: Zenner's offseason gains could lead to bigger role in run game

Zach Zenner added a little weight in this year's offseason workouts in what he calls "maintenance" to continue the training program he undertook last year to get bigger and stronger.

If the opportunity comes his way – and it might – getting bigger could prepare Zenner to take on a bigger role in the Detroit Lions' running game.

There wasn't a major weight gain for Zenner, but little things can add up to produce big results, especially with added emphasis on the running game under new offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell and head coach Matt Patricia's desire to have a more physical team.

The added weight has put in him "in the 220 to 225-pound range," Zenner told reporters in training camp.

"I think this is the biggest I've been," Zenner said. "Not by a lot. It sort of just happened with the training.

"If you can stay lean and fast, bigger is better. We want to run the ball. We want to run the ball effectively. That's a big part of Coach Patricia's mindset and Coach Bevell's mindset.

"It's a different offense. There are going to be different nuances week to week. Its kind of hard to say what it looks like big picture. "

Zenner's work was a continuation of the program he went through a year ago while on the sideline with a back injury. It caused the Lions to put him on injured reserve Sept. 1 and then waive him on Sept. 12 with an injury designation.

Zenner put the time away from the Lions to good use by working out at the Michigan Elite Conditioning for Athletes center in Novi. His body structure had undergone a noticeable transformation when the Lions signed him back to the roster on Nov. 6.

He played well at running back and on special teams in the last eight games. He wound up with 265 yards rushing, three touchdowns and an average of 4.8 yards per carry.

There were some highlight moments in those final eight games.

One came in a 17-3 road win over the Cardinals in Game 13. He had 12 carries for 54 yards and a one-yard run for the clinching touchdown with 4:04 left. Another came in the season-ending 31-0 road win over he Packers. Zenner carried 21 times for 93 yards and a TD.

All in all, Zenner had a productive year and made a positive impact on Patricia.

"Every minute I've been around Zach Zenner, I just love more and more about the guy and what he does and what he's about," Patricia said Sunday. "Take all the stuff he does and the work ethic he has off the field – I mean, it's amazing."

As always, there are no guarantees as the Lions rebuild the running game in Bevell's scheme, but Zenner's reliability and what he brings to the offense and special teams all add to his value.

"I think he's really kind of stepped up," Patricia said. "This year's a new year. We're going to go through the process again. He's right back at it. He's grinding away, working at all avenues of his physical ability."

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