Detroit Lions PreSeason Game #3 Film Review

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Aug 28, 2015; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Detroit Lions running back Zach Zenner (41) scores the winning touchdown in the fourth quarter of a preseason NFL football game against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. The Lions won 22-17. Mandatory Credit: Phil Sears-USA TODAY Sports

Zach Zenner has been the star of the Lions preseason so far. He has strung together a number of very impressive performances and was rewarded against the Jaguars with some reps with the first team offense. He had a strong night with 8 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. It was his best night of the preseason, he showed the burst to break a big run and the power to succeed in short yardage situations. At this point he has played too good to not make the team, the Lions will need to find a roster spot for him somehow. He has no chance of making it to the practice squad and with how much the Lions have played him so far I highly doubt that is their intention. With the health of Joique Bell still questionable, Zach Zenner could see meaningful carries a lot sooner than the Lions intended.

The play above is a prime example of a player just having a feel for the run game. The hole develops slowly as Travis Swanson seals out the defensive tackle who is bursting across the hole. Zenner presses the outside hard and then sinks his hips to explode through the hole. He wiggles through the hole and angles his body right through a gaping hole he helped create for a reasonable gain. The coaches and players have joked about how he always has a well blocked play, but a lot of the credit should go to Zenner. He reads the keys of the blockers very well and just has a knack for gaining yards. Zenner is an incredibly smart runner and understands how to leverage his athletic ability to set up holes in the run game. He possess a lethal jump cut to burst combo that allows him to explode through holes and catch defenses by surprise.

One of the last questions that Zach Zenner needed to answer was his ability to maintain balance through contact. He was very impressive in the first two preseason games, but he was going down way too easy. Arm tackles and glancing blows where taking away huge plays from him. However, against the Jaguars Lions fans saw a completely different animal. He had a physical edge that we hadn’t seen yet, he was punishing anyone who was willing to try to hit him. He also showed some competence as a short yardage runner on the touchdown run above. He finds a weak area in the defensive line quickly and attacks the hole. He keeps his legs driving and refuses to go down even though he had about four Jaguars defenders trying to stop his progress. He receives a little assist from Torrian Wilson, but he still keeps his legs driving and protects the ball very well through contact. He even has the awareness to stick the ball out at the last moment to score the touchdown.

The run above shows the total package. This is a play that most running backs get under 5 yards on, he is stymied on his initial read and has to find a new hole to break through. He finds a tiny backside hole and cuts through it with impressive burst. This is when the run really gets special, he makes three defenders miss on arm tackles and then carries the fourth defender about 10 yards. The concerns about leg drive and the ability to maintain balance through contact are pretty much cleared up on this play alone.

Zach Zenner is almost a roster lock at this point. He has so much natural talent for the position and would be a high level backup for Joique Bell. If he continues to impress like he has this offseason, the Lions might be forced to give him more carries as the season progresses. His emergence gives the Lions a very stable and deep backfield that is miles ahead of where they were last season at the same point.

Next: First Team Defense Struggles