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Allen Park — Lions defensive tackle Haloti Ngata participated in mandatory minicamp this week after missing the last two weeks of organized team activities.

On Tuesday, Ngata filled right back in as the starting left defensive tackle and looked just as fit as he has for much of his previous nine seasons with the Baltimore Ravens.

"The Beast!" said safety James Ihedigbo, who spent two seasons with Ngata in Baltimore. "It's good to have him, man. It takes up a lot of space in there."

The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Ngata will be one of the key pieces helping the Lions replace the recent interior production of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley. The Lions traded a fourth- and fifth-round pick for Ngata and a seventh-rounder on the eve of free agency in March, and even though he's with a new team, coach Jim Caldwell didn't express disappointment in his absence from OTAs.

Caldwell spent two years with Ngata in Baltimore as an offensive assistant, and defensive coordinator Teryl Austin coaches the Ravens' secondary for three years while Ngata was there. That familiarity, both with the coaches and the defense, makes it easier to overlook his absence because the coaches trust he'll be in shape, and Ngata missed OTAs with the Ravens in the past, too.

"Nothing caught us by surprise," Caldwell said. "We knew exactly where he was."

Ngata exited the field as owner Martha Firestone Ford addressed the media, but told a reporter he spent the past two weeks with his family while the Lions practiced.

With Ngata back, the Lions only had two absences Tuesday, and one of those players was with his family, too. Defensive end Corey Wootton and his wife had a baby on Monday.

The only other absence was defensive end Jason Jones, and although he wouldn't explain why Jones is gone, Caldwell said he was excused.

In addition to the two players gone, a few others sat on Tuesday. Running back Joique Bell (knee/Achilles), offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle (knee) and tight end Joe Fauria (ankle) continued to sit. Offensive tackle Cornelius Lucas (undisclosed) was also out, but indicated his injury is not serious.

Here are some observations from minicamp Tuesday:

* Tight end Eric Ebron had one of his best practices in front of the media since the Lions drafted him, catching all but one pass thrown his way. Cornerback Rashean Mathis made a nice play to break up the lone incompletion. Ebron's two best plays were a wheel route in which he was wide open and then another over the middle where he made the catch despite cornerback Darius Slay trying to knock it free.

* The Lions are still giving several players a chance to impress as punt returners. On Tuesday, wide receivers Jeremy Ross, Golden Tate, Ryan Broyles and Lance Moore and running back Ameer Abdullah fielded punts throughout the practice. Abdullah ran a bit too laterally on one return, but his agility and burst make him the favorite to take over return duties if Ross falters.

* In training camp, the players participating on the first special teams units typically provide a good indication of who's in good standing with regards to roster cuts. Obviously, it's early, but the players on the top punt return unit, not including returner, were Tahir Whitehead, Travis Lewis, Devin Taylor, Don Carey, Josh Wilson, Kyle Van Noy, Theo Riddick, Corey Fuller, Isa Abdul-Quddus and Julian Stanford.

* Kicker Kyle Brindza, not punter Sam Martin, booted some punts during the punt return portion of practice. Brindza's versatility made him attractive to the Lions as an undrafted free agent. He also kicked through some skinny uprights at one point that are between 8- and 9-feet wide, less than half the width of the 18-foot, 6-inch posts in the NFL.

* Defensive tackle Caraun Reid remained a part of the first-team defense, playing to the right of Ngata. Darryl Tapp filled in at end with Jones out.

* Travis Swanson was the first-team center, and Manny Ramirez was the top left guard.

* Backup quarterback Dan Orlovsky had a precise day, including a 5-for-5 stretch in 7-on-7s.

* New quarterback Garrett Gilbert, whom the Lions claimed off waivers last week, didn't play a snap in team drills.

jkatzenstein@detroitnews.com

twitter.com/jkatzenstein

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