After Kerryon Johnson was lost for the year with a knee injury Week 11 vs. Carolina last season, veteran Zach Zenner found himself in a bigger role running the ball to end the year. Zenner essentially became Detroit’s lead back the last month of last season.
Over those final four games, Zenner rushed 51 times for 237 yards and scored three touchdowns. That was good for a 4.6 average per carry.
Back in Detroit for a fifth season after re-signing this offseason, the way Zenner finished the 2018 season obviously gave him a lot of confidence heading into 2019. But the veteran knows that every year is different, and he has to start all over again this spring and summer to earn his role in the fall.
“It’s a blank slate every year,” Zenner said after Thursday’s open OTA practice in Allen Park. “Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you finish, it doesn’t carry over to the next season.
“Personally, it was a decent end to the year, but it’s a whole new year for me and it’s a whole new year for this team and the league in general.”
Zenner was waived in mid-September last year after suffering a back injury in the preseason. He busted his butt to rehab the injury, transformed his body, and added a significant amount of muscle to his frame over the two months between being waived and re-signing with the team in November.
Zenner went back to train at Michigan Elite Conditioning for Athletes in Novi with head trainer Dave Lawrence this offseason to continue the kind of training that helped him transform his body and his game to finish last season the way he did, which included running for 93 yards and scoring a touchdown in the season finale in Green Bay.
Johnson enters the year as Detroit’s No. 1 back, but the Lions believe in a running back by committee approach.
“It’s a position-specific thing where those guys take a lot of hits,” Patricia said earlier this offseason when asked about the running back position. “They’re in those situations a lot where their bodies are taking a pounding. You want to be conscious of how many plays they’re getting, especially early on in the year.
“Obviously, we just want to win. That’s the most important thing, but you do have to look at big picture. Great, we could run a couple plays now, but if we wear this guy out, it’s not going to help us in the long run.”
Theo Riddick, Zenner, and newcomers C.J. Anderson, Ty Johnson and others will all compete for roles and carries come training camp and the preseason.
While Zenner is right, it’s a new year, and every year players have to earn their jobs and playing time all over again, but the way he finished last season, and the way he’s attacked this offseason, should make the Lions feel pretty good about the depth they’re developing at the running back spot.