Zenner eager to show he's more than preseason flash

James Hawkins, The Detroit News

Allen Park — Lions running back Zach Zenner is out to prove he’s more than just a preseason star.  

After leading the NFL with 183 rushing yards on 35 carries (5.2 yards per carry) as an undrafted rookie in last year’s exhibitions, Zenner impressed once again in the Lions’ 30-17 exhibition-opening win over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Friday night.

Zenner led the Lions’ rushing attack with 24 yards on seven carries — all of which came in the first half — and added three receptions for 32 yards.

“I think I played OK,” Zenner said following Saturday’s short practice. “Looking back, I don’t question the effort but I do think that technique-wise there are some areas I’d like to improve on for sure.”

With Ameer Abdullah sidelined and not yet ready for contact as he works his way back from offseason shoulder surgery, Theo Riddick started in the backfield and played in the Lions’ opening drive before Zenner took over for the next four offensive possessions.

And with Abdullah — the team’s leading rusher last year — and Riddick — the team’s leading receiving back — virtual locks for roster spots, Zenner is battling veteran Stevan Ridley, rookie Dwayne Washington and George Winn for the No. 3 running back role.

“All of us are just working to get better, to keep improving our game,” Zenner said. “Like I said, I speak for myself personally and I have areas I want to improve on after this last game. I plan on doing so and I'm sure other guys will say the same. They didn't have their best games and we're all going to work to get better and improve as a unit."

Zenner, Ridley and Winn received similar playing time against the Steelers, but Zenner received more snaps out of the bunch with 22 on offense and eight on special teams. Winn played 25 total snaps (19 offense, six special teams) and Ridley 19 (17 offense, two special teams).

“He does what he always does,” Lions coach Jim Caldwell said of Zenner. “He’s a valuable member of our special teams, but he’s also a guy that’s very versatile from the backfield.  He can run the ball, he’s got a knack that you can make him miss.

“He also has an uncanny ability to catch the ball out of the backfield, find seams.  He’s a well-rounded player, very smart, makes very few mistakes.”

Despite having such a successful preseason a year ago, Zenner said this year’s is no different because the goal remains the same: Do whatever it takes contribute and be a part of the team.

Zenner earned a spot on the 53-man roster last year and spent the majority of his time on special teams. He worked his way into the running back rotation in Week 4 before his season ended after suffering multiple cracked ribs and a partially collapsed lung in Week 6 against the Chicago Bears, ending his 2015 campaign with 60 yards rushing on 17 carries.

“(This preseason) really feels the same to me as far as I need to go out and give the best that I can,” said Zenner, who added he "felt fine" in his first game action in nearly 10 months. “Just do my best to make this team and give the coaches the best image of what I can give.”

jhawkins@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @jamesbhawkins