Lions' 'Dump Truck' Winn doesn't mind the dirty work

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Allen Park — George Winn still lives with his parents.

After bouncing around with five different NFL teams his rookie year, Winn thought staying at his family's house in West Bloomfield for 2014 would be the prudent decision. He made the Lions' 53-man roster last year but was one of the last players to secure a job, and he still has a couple weeks to lock in his spot this year.

"I'll move out once I make the team," Winn said.

In the first two exhibition games, the third-year running back has struggled with his rushing opportunities, gaining just 13 yards on eight carries. But Winn's value to the Lions extends well beyond his ability to run the ball.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Winn thinks his strengths are in pass protection and special teams, and with Joique Bell, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick all splitting touches in 2015, the fourth tailback will have to do some of the dirty work, and that's where Winn excels.

"George is as physical a guy as we have on our team," quarterback Matthew Stafford said. "Our linebackers come in on blitzes (and) don't feel like they want to hit him.

"He's a tone-setter back there, just mentality-wise of how he plays. People watch that and understand what it's all about."

Winn, who grew up in Southfield and went to UD Jesuit before playing college football at Cincinnati, said he realized years ago he wasn't the fastest player, so he decided to play like one of the bigger ones. In training camp last year, Winn loudly ran through a few defenders in training camp, earning him nicknames like "Hammerhead" and "Dump Truck."

In camp this year, though, those hits weren't nearly as frequent.

"I just haven't got a chance to catch people like I caught them last year," he said.

Instead, Winn has just taken his aggression out on linebackers during blocking drills.

"I've never seen him back down from a fight," Bell said.

“George is as physical a guy as we have on our team,” Matthew Stafford said of George Winn.

With Bell still recovering from offseason surgeries, Winn has actually worked significantly with the first-team offense in camp and is the first back to run through individual drills. If Bell misses the beginning of the season, Winn would be the best option for short-yardage carries with his physical style. When Bell missed Week 5 against the Bills last year and with Reggie Bush nursing an injury, Winn was the Lions' leading rusher with 11 carries for 48 yards, his best offensive output in 12 games.

"One thing I know from George that coaches love is that you know what you're going to get out of him every time," Bell said. "Go out there, we need 1 yard, go get it. He's going to go get that 1 yard."

If Bell returns before the season as expected, though, Winn's roster spot won't be secure. It'll be tough for the Lions to keep five tailbacks on the roster, and in the battle for the fourth job, undrafted rookie Zach Zenner has been more productive offensively with 55 rushing yards two weeks ago and 81 yards from scrimmage last week.

Although Winn is frustrated with his lack of production, he's happy for Zenner. After all, Winn knows what it's like to be battling to make a team after going undrafted. Plus, as much as Zenner has impressed with the ball in his hands, he'll have to measure up to Winn on special teams to make the team.

And even though Winn is still living in his parents' basement — don't worry, his 16- and 17-year-old brothers do the chores — finally staying with a team for an extended period of time has helped in his pursuit of a job.

"It's a really big comfort level to be able to stay with the same team twice and get to know the same guys and know where you're going every day and not ... bouncing around from week to week," Winn said. "I've enjoyed it a lot."