The return of Stephen Tulloch is something to watch as Detroit Lions start camp


ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions finally open training camp Monday afternoon -- one of the final teams in the NFL to report.

Lions coach Jim Caldwell said the late start to camp relative to other teams is part of the process he has put together throughout his coaching career. A lot of it has to do with how the team works in the spring and what he's able to get from them.

The strong attendance in the spring -- other than injured players only Haloti Ngata and Calvin Johnson missed any actual OTA or minicamp time -- helped allow a potential late start. Caldwell did recognize that the decision to go a few days later than most does put a bit more pressure on his players, though.

"It reduces the amount of time that we have to have in the preseason," Caldwell said. "But it also puts us under the gun a little bit, because it's not going to be long before we have our first preseason game. So I think it also adds a little sense of urgency."

Safety James Ihedigbo said the fewer days of pad work and overall work in general could provide a benefit toward the end of the season, when every team is trying to stay as fresh as possible.

With camp starting, here are a few things I’ll be watching for in the first week of practice.

1. When do Joique Bell and Jason Jones return: Lions coach Jim Caldwell couldn't really give timetable answers when asked about the potential returns of Bell or Jones from the Physically Unable to Perform list. Considering they are two starters with high value to the Lions' success in 2015, Detroit would benefit seeing them back sooner than later at least in some form of practice. Caldwell said Sunday that he’ll be concerned about players until they return to the field. When it comes specifically to Bell, Caldwell said the Lions have to find a balance between having Bell receive some work in the preseason and making sure he is going to be healthy for the start of the regular season. This is potentially a similar approach to how the Lions handled Reggie Bush and Calvin Johnson last season.

2. How does Stephen Tulloch look: The linebacker has been prepping for his return to the field for almost 10 months now after tearing his ACL in Week 3 against Green Bay. Tulloch didn't do much in terms of team drills during spring workouts, so that will be the next barometer for him. Coming off the first significant injury of his career, Tulloch has been consistent in his belief that he can return to the level he was playing at before the ACL tear. He's expected to be the team's middle linebacker and one of the cornerstones of the defense after the departure of Ndamukong Suh, so seeing him fully healthy early on will go a long way toward helping any sort of defensive transition that might occur.

3. Who gets the defensive tackle nod when pads go on: Caraun Reid was one of the talked-about performers during spring workouts, but the defensive tackle was doing everything without pads. In a wide open race at DT next to Ngata, he could get the first shot to win the job, but the Lions brought in Tyrunn Walker and drafted Gabe Wright to try and solidify the role. All three players have large questions surrounding them, but this is one of the few truly open spots in the Detroit starting lineup.

4. Laken Tomlinson's progress: The team's first round pick is expected to win the left guard job for the start of the season, but veteran Manny Ramirez held on to the spot throughout spring workouts. Once pads come on and with a five-week break away from the facility, how much has Tomlinson improved is a key question. If he is able to pass Ramirez within the first week or so on the depth chart, that would bode well for his prospects during the season.

5. Eric Ebron's progression: Detroit’s first-round pick in 2014 is one of the most focused-on players for this season. He was expected to be the Lions' No. 3 target last season, but that never materialized. For Detroit to have success this season, it will need a strong second season from Ebron, who Golden Tate has praised throughout the spring and did so again last week. The pressure is on Ebron for a strong second season. A good first week, particularly catching the ball, could go a long way toward helping him in 2015.