X factor Eric Ebron's potential return highlights this week's Lions OTA

ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- The Detroit Lions have been shorthanded during the first two weeks of OTAs. Starters and contributors across position groups were sitting out to either heal injuries or simply for veteran rest.

This week, there's more of a chance some Lions players will be participating in the team's final open OTA -- and final OTA, period -- before next week's mandatory minicamp that will wrap up the offseason activities for the Lions.

So who should you be paying attention to Thursday? It all starts with a certain tight end.

1. Eric Ebron: The team's expected starting tight end hasn't practiced in the first two open-to-the-media OTAs. He was spotted practicing in photos on the team's website, which bodes well for his health heading into training camp and the fall. He is expected to be a big piece of the Detroit offense after the retirement of Calvin Johnson in March, so seeing how the Lions could line him up and use him will be something to pay attention to Thursday and during next week's minicamp. He might be the biggest X factor entering this season for Detroit.

2. Taylor Decker: He'll be on the list for a bit as long as he's lining up at left tackle over Riley Reiff. General manager Bob Quinn said if Decker is the best left tackle, he'll start the season there. While that is not a mind-blowing statement, it is another bit of acknowledgment Decker is clearly in the conversation to be at left tackle on Sept. 11 against the Indianapolis Colts.

3. Michael Ola: The team's starting right tackle at the end of last season, he sat out the first two weeks of OTAs. Like Ebron, he was spotted with a helmet on during practice, which means he should be good to go Thursday. Based on where Decker has lined up and with Riley Reiff at right tackle, Ola would seemingly be the No. 3 tackle on the roster at this point, but paying attention to where he slides in could give a better idea of where the depth stands behind Decker and Reiff with Cornelius Lucas and Joe Dahl, among others.

4. Alex Carter: Nevin Lawson remains the presumptive starter at cornerback opposite Darius Slay, but Carter picked up No. 1 reps last week and has the potential to eventually be the starter at the position. Right now, he's behind Lawson on the outside, but he'll definitely get a chance to push Lawson. If he gets more No. 1 reps again Thursday, it might be more of a competition than we're anticipating.

5. Kyle Van Noy: Haven't paid a ton of attention to him during OTAs yet, in part because of the Lions being unable to hit and his status as the possible No. 3 linebacker. But he's in position to have a larger role in 2016 -- potentially as the main SAM linebacker. That's technically a starting spot, although the Lions are likely to be in nickel for a majority of snaps in 2016. He's entering his third season and needs to flash as much as possible now to show he can make significant progress as training camp starts to creep up.