Injured Lions RB Zenner: Not playing 'hardest pill to swallow'

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — When Lions rookie running back Zach Zenner took a hard hit from Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee last Sunday, he just thought he had the wind knocked out of him.

Zach Zenner had 30 yards on 10 carries in Week 5.

After jogging to the sideline, team doctors discovered Zenner had cracked ribs — five total fractures in four ribs — and rushed him to the hospital to repair his partially collapsed lung.

Zenner is doing fine now and visited the team facility Friday for a check-in with doctors. He's no longer taking any pain medicine, but there's still some sorrow as he'll miss significant action for the first time in his football career.

"That's the hardest pill to swallow, honestly," said Zenner, who went on season-ending injured reserve Wednesday. "I worked so hard to get to that point and then have it all end so suddenly, but at the same time, I'll be getting back, getting ready to rock for next year."

In Week 5, Zenner had season highs with 10 carries for 30 yards. He had three carries for 15 yards in the first 18 minutes against the Bears in Week 6 before suffering the injury.

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"Not being to get a full breath was uncomfortable, but then I was able to just control it with shallow breaths," he said. "And then all the movement that I did basically getting to the hospital was very painful."

Zenner, who hopes to be a doctor one day, said he wasn't scared after learning his diagnosis, but said it was incredibly painful having doctors insert a tube into his lung through his chest. Because it was an emergency situation, he said, there wasn't time for him to take sedatives before the minor procedure, which took less than 10 minutes.

After he had his lung stabilized, doctors removed the tube, but Zenner had to keep gauze on the incision for 72 hours. He went to Lions headquarters to have the dressing replaced.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he spoke to Zenner Friday morning, and Zenner said the coach and general manager Martin Mayhew called him while he was in the hospital. Other people, including the team doctors, visited him in the hospital.

Although Zenner should be fully recovered within about six weeks, the Lions couldn't afford to wait as other running backs — Joique Bell (ankle) and Theo Riddick (groin) deal with injuries, so they put him on the reserve list and promoted George Winn from the practice squad.

"I'll probably be up and running around next week," he said. "It's all whatever I can handle."