The release of veteran running back Stevan Ridley has thinned out the competition for the final couple roster spots at running back to Zach Zenner, Dwayne Washington and George Winn.
Ridley was signed back in April to compete for a spot as a change of pace, between the tackles runner, but he never gained momentum in that role.
"It's just like anything else that we do just in terms of our evaluation process," head coach Jim Caldwell said Thursday after Ridley's release.
"We take a look at it and we go through our transactions and make moves according to what we think is best for us. He's still got obviously some juice left and he's a good player. It was just in our situation we did what we think is best in this time."
Ridley played 26 snaps in the team's two preseason games, mostly with the third-team offense. He registered nine carries for 27 yards and caught one pass for five yards.
"The most important thing is obviously the production," head coach Jim Caldwell said earlier this week about the running back competition. "That's what you look at in all phases, whether it's pass protecting, carrying the ball, or involvement in special teams. Because all of those things are extremely important and so we'll take a look at those guys and evaluate them accordingly."
Washington leads the team in rushing through the first two preseason games (34 yards on eight carries). He also has a kickoff return touchdown, a rushing touchdown and a two-point conversion run.
Zenner's added 28 rushing yards and 32 receiving. His 32 receiving yards lead all Lions backs in the preseason.
Winn has rushed six times for four yards and has two catches for 25 yards.
Zenner has consistently taken the first reps after Ameer Abdullah and Theo Riddick in camp, and the rookie Washington has been impressive through the team's first two preseason games.
"I've been impressed with some of the things he's done," offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter said of Washington this week. "You know, when the guy gets the ball he does impressive things. That's a good trait to have."
Washington is expected to see an uptick in carries this week.
"Just my personal opinion, I feel like I'm going to be getting a lot of reps this game and I hope everything goes smooth," he said Thursday. "I'm ready for the opportunity."
It remains to be seen if DeAndre Levy will play in the Lions' regular-season tune-up Saturday in Baltimore, but he is expected to be 100 percent ready to roll by the start of the regular season.
Caldwell recognizes that having Levy ready when the games count is the most important thing. He knows what it's like to go through a season with Levy on the field (2014) and with Levy on the sideline (2015).
"I like the former," Caldwell said with a smile.
"He's a very instinctive individual, first of all, that has a very unique knack of being a very good pass defender as well as being a guy who makes over a hundred-some-odd tackles. Typically you don't have the combination.
"Typically it's a guy that may be able to do one or the other. Maybe he's very, very good ... he's a nickel sort of a linebacker who can cover and drop into zones and cover guys man to man, but then when it gets down to guys lining up with more of a formidable set for running purposes and he can step right in and make tackles. This guy can do both."
Ameer Abdullah was one of the best kick returners in the NFL last season, leading the league in total return yards (1,077) and finishing second in average yards per return (29.1).
It remains to be seen if Abdullah will have that role again this season. He enters the year as the clear No. 1 running back on the roster and is expected to have a big role on offense.
Caldwell was asked Thursday if Abdullah is still in play to return kicks this season. He responded with a simple, "yes."
Eric Ebron was a non-participant in the open portion of practice once again Thursday.
Joining Ebron in the ranks of those not taking part were: center Graham Glasgow, safety Isaiah Johnson, tackles Michael Ola and Corey Robinson and linebacker Josh Bynes.