Aug 30, 2014; Columbia, MO, USA; South Dakota State Jackrabbits running back Zach Zenner (31) runs the ball against the Missouri Tigers during the second half at Faurot Field. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports
Zach Zenner was an undrafted free agent running back that the Lions signed this offseason. He ran for three straight 2,000 yards seasons at South Dakota State and showed some impressive traits in his time at South Dakota. He hasn’t gotten a lot of hype this offseason but came out with a bang during his first preseason performance. He finished the night with 8 carries for 35 yards and strung together a bunch of impressive runs. He was also very active as a pass protector, he gave up a QB hit but provided Orlovsky some extra time on the rest of his snaps.
The run above came on third down and 1, Zenner needed to be decisive and burst through the proper hole to pick up the first down. Jacob Maxwell and Michael Williams combo block the defensive end and Laken Tomlinson blows up a linebacker, opening up a hole for Zenner to exploit. He hits the hole hard and bursts through for a first down. This play may not look like much but Zenner needs to prove he can be valuable on short yardage carries for him to make the team. This was a textbook power run by the Lions, it was perfectly blocked and Zenner hit the hole like a wrecking ball.
(Laken is a scary, scary man when he’s pulling)
The first play above was Zenner’s most impressive run of the night. He hits the hole hard and beats the pursuing linebackers angle, he then wiggles through traffic to find some daylight. He makes a defender miss and gets tackled forward an extra four yards. This play shows off his great vision and his ability to move through traffic to pick up extra yards. The second play was one of my favorites of the night. Michael Williams makes a phenomenal play and comes off his combo block to pick up the pursuing linebacker. Zenner realizes this and cuts right through the hole Williams makes with a violent sharp cut. The quickness of his cut catches the next defender by surprise and he almost forces a miss tackle. The defender gets just enough of him to trip Zenner up but he is still able to fall forward for an extra couple yards. Zenner struggled breaking arm tackles in this game for some reason, which a back his size should be able to easily run through. I will give him a pass on this play because he was coming out of a cut and was completely off balance but its definitely something to keep an eye on in future games.
I already mentioned that Zenner saw some action as a pass protector. The first play is the QB hit that he gave up, he takes a poor angle towards the blitzing linebacker and can’t slow him down. The linebacker runs through his block and hits Orlovsky right after he releases the ball. He did a good job recognizing the blitz and provided Orlovsky the extra time necessary to deliver the ball. A lot of the blame on this play belongs to Corey Robinson, he does a terrible job keeping up with the speed rush and the linebacker blows right by him. On the second play Zenner does a much better job protecting the quarterback. After he recognizes the blitzing linebacker he relies on a cut block and does a very good job of neutralizing him from the play. Because of the block, Orlovsky has a clean pocket and is able to hit Greg Salas down the field for a big gain.
Zach Zenner made a great claim towards making the team. He had a very good performance, especially when you compare his night to George Winn’s (5 carries for 3 yards, most impressive run of the night here). Zenner will still need to prove himself on special teams and as a pass protector for him to earn a roster spot, but looks to be a far more advanced runner than George Winn. This will be one of the closest camp battles this season and it will be very fun to see how it unfolds this preseason.
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