Zach Zenner making strong impression with Lions
ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) -- The Detroit Lions likely will give their starters only a few snaps when they travel to Washington on Thursday for their second exhibition game.
It's bad news for fans hoping to catch a long look at the likes of quarterback Matthew Stafford or star wide receiver Calvin Johnson, but it could be just what rookie running back Zach Zenner needs.
Zenner, signed in May as a free agent, made a strong impression in his first preseason game and looks forward to doing more of the same when the Lions take on the Redskins.
He had 55 yards on 13 carries, including a 14-yard run, in last week's exhibition victory over the New York Jets. He should see plenty more snaps as Detroit remains without Joique Bell, who's missed all of camp while recovering from knee and Achilles tendon surgeries.
Bell, rookie Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick all are expected to make the roster, leaving Zenner in a competition with George Winn for the final running back spot.
Zenner's work against the Jets brought him more snaps with the second team since the preseason opener.
He's already got a list of things he'd like to improve on against Washington.
"I'd like to be more physical in the passing game and pass protection and keep my feet a little better after cuts," he said after Tuesday's training camp practice.
The extra work with the second unit has made an impression, but Zenner said he's still worried about sticking around.
"I just go when they tell me to go," he said. "Obviously I see who I'm with in the huddle, but at the same time I'm focusing on my job."
The Minnesota native went undrafted this spring after a strong career at South Dakota State, where he became the first running back in NCAA Division I history to rush for at least 2,000 yards in three straight seasons.
He finished his career with 6,548 yards on 1,095 carries with 61 touchdowns and caught an additional eight scoring passes.
He rushed for 2,019 yards and 22 touchdowns in his final season.
Lions coach Jim Caldwell said he's noticed the rookie's work ethic.
"You tell him to run 40 yards down the field, he's going to run 40," the coach said. "But he also has ability.
"We've been pleased with him so far."
Zenner will take every carry he can get, but likely will win a spot on the team with his special teams play.
"I think it plays a big role," he said. "Obviously when Joique returns he's set up to be the starting running back. So for me to make an impact, for sure, right away, it's going to have to be special teams."
Winn, who prepped at a Detroit high school, was signed from the practice squad last season and saw most of his action on special teams.
Zenner played six special teams snaps in the win over the Jets.
The Lions open the regular season Sept. 13 at San Diego.
Note: Former offensive tackle Lomas Brown spent the afternoon at camp and gave pointers to players. Brown played the first 11 seasons of his 18-year career in Detroit.