By: Will Burchfield
Seahawks defensive end Michael Bennett made headlines on Tuesday with some racially-infused comments about Lions running back Zach Zenner.
On Wednesday, Zenner responded.
“I didn’t see them yesterday, but I did hear some stuff briefly about it. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion and it sounds like he said some pretty nice stuff, so I’m appreciative of that and I think he’s a really good player,” Zenner said.
With the Lions and Seahawks set to square off on Saturday in Seattle, Bennett said he believes Zenner is the force behind Detroit’s improved ground game. The Lions have seen a considerable uptick in yards per carry the past two weeks with Zenner getting the bulk of the action.
“I think it’s the running back. There’s not many white running backs in the NFL, but he has to be the best right now,” Bennett said. “He’s doing such a great job of cutbacks and hitting the hole. He’s a really good back.”
“That surprises me a lot,” Bennett added later, “because you don’t see a lot of (white) running backs in the NFL. There’s a couple, but right now he’s really, really good.
Asked if it bothers him that Bennett brought race into the discussion, Zenner replied, matter of factly, “Does that bother me? That does not bother me, no.”
He also resisted the idea that white running backs face extra obstacles when entering the NFL.
“I’m here, I had the same opportunities as everyone else,” Zenner said. “So I would say none.”
Still, Zenner took an unlikely path to the NFL. He was an unheralded prospect coming out of South Dakota State in 2015 and was questioned at the combine for his size and speed. He went undrafted. Now, some 20 months later, he’s the Lions’ starting running back heading into the playoffs.
But it’s not a story of overcoming the odds or proving people wrong. Not to Zenner, at least.
“Personally, I don’t believe I’ve had many doubters. If I have, I haven’t heard them,” he said. “I have a very supportive family and wife and my inner circle of people I listen to, they haven’t doubted me for a second.
“I had an opportunity just like everyone else. I didn’t get drafted but I had plenty of opportunities in my first preseason here and in practice before the preseason games so I had an opportunity all the same.”
A new one has arisen in the wake of injuries to Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick, and Zenner is rising to the occasion.
“When guys get their opportunity, they make the most of it or they don’t,” said offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter. “I think Zach’s got his opportunity and he’s making the most of it right now.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Caldwell echoed Zenner in regard to Bennett’s comments.
“I think Michael Bennett is very entertaining. He does a great job with the media and those kinds of things,” Caldwell said. “Great player, not an average player, great player and his comments are his comments. I think that regardless of race, creed or color he’s just a very, very good football player. That’s how we look at it.”
Zenner is looking forward to sparring with Bennett on Saturday.
“We’ve gotta be ready to face him,” Zenner said. “He does some stuff that you just kind of say, ‘Wow,’ when you look at the tape.”
Or when you listen to it.