Five Lions to watch in Friday's preseason opener

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Here are five players who merit extra attention when the Detroit Lions open the preseason against the Pittsburgh Steelers Friday night at Heinz Field.

Running back Zach Zenner

He had a strong preseason in 2015 to earn a roster spot as an undrafted rookie. Now Zenner aims to repeat the feat. The Lions will get a long look at their power back competition with Ameer Abdullah expected to sit and Theo Riddick, a proven commodity, unlikely to be exposed to many reps. Zenner is currently locked into a healthy competition with six-year veteran Stevan Ridley and George Winn. This will be Zenner’s first game action since suffering multiple broken ribs and a partially collapsed lung in October (Week 6 vs. Chicago).

Offensive tackle Taylor Decker

The Lions addressed their biggest offseason need in the NFL Draft by selecting Decker in the first round (16th overall). Decker was initially expected to start on the right side, but was immediately inserted as left tackle for offseason practices. The coaching staff and general manager Bob Quinn continue to say Decker’s role isn’t set in stone, but unless he’s a mess in the preseason, the Ohio State product should be protecting quarterback Matthew Stafford’s blindside in 2016.

Lions' veterans will be mostly on sidelines Friday

Wide receiver Andre Roberts

The competition for the fourth and fifth receiver jobs is wide open, but Roberts made some noise this past week, both as a pass catcher and special teams contributor. Expect to see the seven-year veteran handle some kickoffs and work with the second-team offense as he attempts to distinguish himself from undrafted rookies Jay Lee and Quinshad Davis.

Linebacker Kyle Van Noy

The former second-round pick hasn’t come close to delivering on his potential. But he’s healthy at this stage of the year for the first time in three professional seasons and is the leading candidate to start at strongside linebacker. Van Noy, who is praised for his offseason conditioning, has played well in camp and flashed real strides in pass coverage. Now it’s time to see if that ports over to game action.

Tight end Cole Wick

By now, you’ve heard plenty about the undrafted rookie from the University of Incarnate Word, but Wick still has plenty to prove if he’s going to crack Detroit’s 53-man roster next month. With tight end Eric Ebron still nursing a leg injury, Wick should get the starting nod and plenty of reps throughout this contest as he looks to validate the hype he’s generated so far this offseason.

Twitter: @justin_rogers

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