In a little more than three quarters of work after subbing for injured starter Tyrone Wheatley, Zereoue rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries, highlighting his day with an exciting 55-yard run in which Zereoue changed direction four times and left a path of Houston defenders in his wake.
Not bad for a guy who wasn't even on the active list when the Raiders opened the season four weeks ago in Pittsburgh, a somewhat surprising game-day scratch by coach Norv Turner.
For Zereoue -- who will make his first start since last Oct. 12 when Oakland (2-2) plays at Indianapolis (3-1) on Sunday -- his performance against Houston drew little more than a yawn from the man who produced it.
"It wasn't that much of a big deal to me because I know my abilities," Zereoue said. "I've done this in this league before, so it's just a matter of me reassuring the guys around me I can get it done when called upon."
Zereoue starred at West Virginia, setting school records for rushing yards, attempts, 100-yard games and all-purpose yards despite playing only three years for the Mountaineers.
A third-round draft pick in 1999, Zereoue spent most of his time in Pittsburgh relieving Jerome Bettis. When leg injuries hindered Bettis for much of 2002, it was Zereoue who stepped in and rushed for a career-best 762 yards.
Now in Oakland, after opening the year buried on the depth chart, Zereoue is again ready to step in. Wheatley is expected to miss two to four weeks with a shoulder injury while backup Justin Fargas is nursing a turf toe injury that has plagued him all season.
Zereoue leads the Raiders in rushing with 182 yards on 29 carries. His 6.3 yards per carry average is tops among all NFL running backs with a minimum 25 carries and is second overall in the league only to Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick.
"He's a compact guy and obviously very, very elusive but he's also very physical," Turner said. "If he's getting more carries he's going to get all the different runs. In each of the games he was able to get outside and make some plays on those sweep-type
Generously listed in Oakland's media guide at 5-8, Zereoue finds himself constantly battling the theory that smaller backs cannot stand up to the workload and punishment that comes with being a team's primary runner.
"When you look at me, I'm short, I'm not small," Zereoue said. "If guys look at me thinking I'm just a third-down back who can't handle the running the bulk of the carries, that's not true."
The Raiders will start Brad Badger at right guard against Indianapolis while three-time Pro Bowl offensive lineman Ron Stone recovers from an MCL injury in his left knee. Stone is listed as doubtful on the injury list but told reporters Thursday he doubted
he would be able to play against the Colts.
Turner said that middle linebacker Napoleon Harris, who missed most of the preseason with a knee injury, will make his first start of the season against Indianapolis.