By: Will Burchfield
@burchie_kid

With training camp less than a week away, talk is heating up again surrounding the Lions. There is a lot to be decided before the 2016 season kicks off, from the final roster to the starting 11 on both sides of the ball. The returning players may seem to be under less pressure, but a number of them are coming off underwhelming seasons and need to re-establish their stock. In that light, here are the five returning Lions with the most to prove in training camp.

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5. Haloti Ngata, 32, DT

Hampered by a calf injury for much of the 2015 season, the typically explosive Ngata wasn’t the defensive force the Lions had hoped he would be. Still, the team re-signed him to two-year, $12-million contract in the offseason under the assumption he’ll bounce back in 2016. The stout defensive tackle has logged ten years in the NFL and is on the wrong side of 30, but he still has the strength and burst to make a difference in the trenches.

Quotable: “He’s hard to handle because he’s a big, powerful man that can run. We’re getting a sense of that now. Last year he was a bit hampered a little. You didn’t quite get to see who he truly can be. You saw it in spurts last year. I think you’re going to see it more consistently this year and he’s been really good during the course of the spring.” – Jim Caldwell, during minicamp

4. Laken Tomlinson, 24, OG 

Tomlinson showed flashes of dominance last year, but didn’t fully live up to his first-round selection (28th overall.) The Lions’ offensive line is in flux entering training camp and it will be incumbent on Tomlinson to re-state his claim to a starting role, most likely at left guard. Between Tomlinson and likely left tackle Taylor Decker, the Lions appear to have two mainstays on the left side of the offensive line. But that is dependent, in part, on Tomlinson showing early signs of progression in training camp.

3. Ameer Abdullah, 23, RB 

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Like Tomlinson, Abdullah had an up-and-down rookie campaign. He led the Lions in both rushing yards and all-purpose yards, but had issues holding onto the ball. After undergoing shoulder surgery in the offseason, Abdullah said he had a lot of time to study film and claims to be a more cerebral player heading into his sophomore season. That bodes well for his continued development, but if there is one thing he must demonstrate in training camp it is improved ball security.

Quotable: “I got to look at things this offseason from a coaching perspective so I understand why we do things more and where people are going to be. So, like I said, it’s been a very mentally challenging period for me.” – Abdullah, during minicamp

2. Kyle Van Noy, 26, OLB 

Van Noy has been bit by the injury bug through his two-year career, but he’s fully healthy entering 2016. That’s a good thing, because it seems like the clock is beginning to tick on the 2014 second-round pick. Van Noy sat out the first half of his rookie season and wasn’t much of a factor in 2015, recording just ten tackles in 15 games. 2016 will go a long way toward determine Van Noy’s future with the Lions, and that process begins in training camp.

Quotable: “I give credit to my trainer who I work with, but me and him had a good plan and worked hard and I dropped 15 pounds…I do feel better, after having a bunch of tears and finally getting those fixed up I do feel better.” – Van Noy, during OTA

1. Eric Ebron, 23, TE

No player has more to prove in 2016 than Ebron. Drafted tenth overall in 2014, the skilled tight end hasn’t lived up to his potential. He’s hauled in just six touchdowns through 27 career games and has yet to record 100 receiving yards in a game. For what it’s worth, Ebron sounds very excited about Jim Bob Cooter’s creative, risk-taking offense – but it is time for the vocal tight end to back up the talk.

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Quotable: “I feel like growing up, especially my era of kids growing up, we’ve all been babied. We need someone to tell us what’s real and Jim Bob does and lets us know and brings out the best in us.” – Ebron, during OTAs