Kerryon Johnson energizing Lions' run game

The Detroit Lions emphasized upgrading the running game during the offseason. At some points, the emphasis seems like it was written in all-caps, 96-point Helvetica Bold.

The Lions added LeGarrette Blount in free agency, then used their first two draft picks to upgrade the ground game, taking left guard Frank Ragnow in the first round and running back Kerryon Johnson in the second.

With Matthew Stafford standing on the sideline in Friday night's preseason opener in Oakland, the Lions again showed they are adamant about improving the league's worst running offense.

Blount, Johnson and Ameer Abdullah, who is battling for touches in a suddenly crowded backfield, each averaged more than 4.0 yards per carry behind an improved offensive line that did not play with all five starters.

While Blount displayed his trademark ferocity on one 13-yard gain, and Abdullah impressed in his bid to earn more reps, scoring a touchdown, it was the rookie who stole the ground show for Detroit.

Playing almost the entire game, Johnson dashed for 34 yards on seven carries (4.9 average) and displayed his pass-catching acumen on five receptions for 33 yards. The rookie's most explosive play, a 57-yard blast in which he showed speed and elusiveness in space, was negated by a holding penalty.

"Just trying to make a play," Johnson said, via MLive's Kyle Meinke. "It was a play that popped open, and we needed a little energy. We were a little down, so I was just trying to do my job and create some energy."

On the drive following the wiped-out run, Johnson spurned the Lions offense, compiling 47 total yards -- including chunks of 19, 13 and 12 yards -- on an 88-yard field goal drive that started on Detroit's own 7-yard-line.

While much of his damage was done against backups, Johnson flashed the traits that have Lions fans giddy. The rookie owns the speed in space, elusiveness in tight quarters, power to play between the tackles, and pass-catching hands to be a three-down back.

How the backfield snaps in Detroit shake out will be determined largely by how the rookie builds on his first preseason game.

Regardless of how touches are distributed when games matter, the theme remains the same: A Lions team that hasn't produced a 100-yard rushing game since Reggie Bush in 2013 will continue to push the ground game.

"We're trying to have a balanced offense," Lions coach Matt Patricia said. "I still think there were certainly some plays we left out there and we have to do better on. That will be the focus on what we're trying to improve."