Jacksonville, Fla. — The Lions running backs nicknamed Zach Zenner “Doc” because of his future plans to be a surgeon.
Defensive end Darryl Tapp’s moniker for the rookie is a nod to his past when he ran for 2,000-plus yards in three straight seasons at South Dakota State.
“Z2K,” Tapp said. “He’s the truth.”
In the Lions’ 22-17 exhibition victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars Friday, Zenner starred with eight carries for 85 yards, including a 41-yard gain and a 3-yard touchdown.
The undrafted rookie was impressive in the first two exhibition games with 81 yards from scrimmage in Washington last week and 55 rushing yards against the Jets.
On Friday, though, Zenner did much of his damage with the first-team offense and against the Jaguars’ starting defense, entering on the second drive then playing intermittently until the end of the game. Zenner said he was happy for the earlier opportunity this week, and quarterback Matthew Stafford said the rookie was impressive.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t wow you without pads on and then you go put the pads on and you play real football,” Stafford said. “And he does the right thing in protection, has pretty sure hands and then when he gets the ball in his hands when he’s running the ball, he does a great job. He’s got really good patience, good vision and he’s obviously a big kid.”
The 5-foot-11, 222-pound Zenner’s highlight was a 41-yard scamper on a 3rd-and-1 in the second quarter, a play that fullback Michael Burton said shifted the momentum in the Lions’ favor as the players were just hoping he’d reach the first down with run-heavy personnel.
A fellow rookie, Burton said he’s seen daily improvement from Zenner this summer.
“He’s that consistent player that coaches want to see and teammates want to see,” he said.
As well as Zenner played, he had no problem acknowledging his mishaps. He dropped a screen pass, had a holding penalty and even though he had a tackle covering one punt, he was on the unit that gave up a 27-yard return.
Coach Jim Caldwell said after the game that Zenner is “performing well,” but there’s another week of practice and a game before the Lions have to decide whether or not he’ll be on the 53-man roster.
The good news for Zenner is there’s little debate at this point whether or not he’s a better offensive threat than George Winn, who had six carries for 13 yards and two catches for 14 yards. However, Winn is more polished on special teams, excels in pass protection and the fourth tailback likely won’t play much behind Joique Bell, Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick.
And at this point, Zenner said he’s not sure where he stands in his pursuit of a spot on the 53-man roster.
“I’m not in the decision room,” he said. “I know in this league, there’s so many variables, so it’s hard for me to say.”