Four storylines to follow heading into Lions’ OTAs

James Ihedigbo, who had skipped the team's previous conditioning sessions because of a contract dispute, reported Tuesday for practice.

Andrew Weber

The second phase of the Detroit Lions’ voluntary workout program began Tuesday with the first of 10 OTA (organized team activities) practices over the next three weeks.

The team will then hold a three-day mandatory mini-camp June 16-18 before breaking for the summer.

Don’t read too much into these practices. The players won’t be in full uniform, nor will there be any real contact.

But it is another step toward the start of training camp in late July and the regular season on September 13.

Here are four storylines of note:

— Coach Jim Caldwell said he wanted safety James Ihedigbo back with the team "pronto."

The start of the OTAs is good enough.

Ihedigbo, who had skipped the team’s previous conditioning sessions because of a contract dispute, reported Tuesday for practice.

The Lions tweeted a photo on him (No. 32) on the field.

It removes a potential distraction and means that the Lions will have one of their top leaders as they get back together and try to figure out life as a defense without Ndamukong Suh.

— Six players finished last season on injured reserve. These practices will help confirm how far along are they in their comebacks.

Middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch missed the final 13 games because of knee surgery.

Bill Bentley, who won the starting job as the nickel cornerback, had a similar knee injury in the opening game.

Nevin Lawson, a rookie who replaced Bentley, then suffered a gruesome foot injury a week later that required immediate surgery.

Offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle played in 10 games during an injury-plagued season that saw him out with a knee injury at the end.

Tight end Joseph Fauria played in only seven games because of an ankle injury. Reserve linebacker Travis Lewis suffered a leg injury in Week 2 and didn’t play again. Rookie receiver TJ Jones missed the entire season with a shoulder injury suffered in college.

And then there’s running back Joique Bell, who had offseason surgeries for knee and Achilles’ injuries, neither of which was considered major.

Whether they’re ready in May and June isn’t essential, but it certainly would be a good sign that they’ll be near full strength by training camp and/or the start of the regular season.

— The revamped offensive and defensive lines will start to come together during this time.

Laken Tomlinson, the team’s first-round draft pick, is expected to take over at left guard for Rob Sims, who wasn’t re-signed.

The replacement for Dominic Raiola at center is likely to come down to either Travis Swanson, a third-round draft pick last year, or Manny Ramirez, a veteran acquired in a trade less than a month ago.

Who will get the first-team snaps? It’s quite possible they’ll split them for now.

The interior of the Lions’ defensive line has been completely overhauled following the departures of Suh and Nick Fairley.

Haloti Ngata, a five-time All-Pro, automatically becomes the leader of the group, while Tyrunn Walker, a free-agent addition from New Orleans, will try to make a good first impression.

— All eyes will be on the rookies to see how they start to fit in during their transition to the NFL.

Besides Tomlinson, the Lions could also use immediate contributions from running back Ameer Abdullah (second round), cornerback Alex Carter (third round), defensive tackle Gabe Wright (fourth round) and fullback Michael Burton (fifth round).

Abdullah will get an opportunity to win the return-specialist job from Jeremy Ross. Carter should step in as a top reserve behind Darius Slay and Rashean Mathis. Wright needs to be part of the D-tackle rotation, which is also without C.J. Mosley. Meanwhile, Burton is the replacement for Jed Collins as a blocker in the backfield.

The faster these rookies catch on to the new systems they’re in, the better chance they’ll realistically have of filling the roles that the front office and coaching staff envision for them.