Lions' rookie OT Penei Sewell enjoys solid start in season opener vs. 49ers
Detroit — When you give up 41 points, and only score 10 through the first three-and-a half quarters, plenty went wrong. But the Detroit Lions had to come out of their season-opening loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday pleased by the performance of rookie offensive tackle Penei Sewell.
"It was late in the second (quarter) and I remember I was going to say something into the headset like, 'This kid’s playing pretty good,' Lions coach Dan Campbell said after the game. "Like, I feel like he’s holding his own. "I didn’t want to do it because I didn’t want to jinx him, but I felt like from afar he really did. When you don’t even think twice about (it) at a certain point and you’re thinking about everything else, that’s a good sign.”
What Campbell is noting is the obvious — offensive lineman only tend to be noticed when they're screwing up. And outside of one play in the first half, where Sewell took a false step and was badly beat inside by Pro Bowl defensive end Nick Bosa for a tackle for loss on a run play, the rookie's play largely went unnoticed.
Sewell, who had been practicing for a switch to right tackle all offseason, flipped to left tackle in the middle of this week, after Taylor Decker, the team's starter at that spot the past five seasons, suffered a freak finger injury in practice requiring surgery.
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Despite not playing last season after opting out of the 2020 campaign at the University of Oregon, Sewell seamlessly made the switch. Not bad, given the massive jump in competition from his college days.
Even more impressively, at 27 days shy of his 21st birthday, Sewell became the youngest player in NFL history to start at the all-important left tackle position and the second-youngest Lions player to start a game behind only defensive lineman Marc Spindler.
To his credit, Sewell already sounds like a professional athlete, preferring to criticize his mistakes instead of bask in the praise of his performance.
“It was all right," Sewell said. "I gotta get better at a couple things. My hands were out of whack, pad level came too high on a couple, so I gotta go back to the drawing board and get better for next week.”
Sewell has already stated he won't hesitate going back to right tackle once Decker is medically cleared, but his strong performance in his debut, contrasted against his struggles at right tackle during the preseason, should give the Lions plenty to think about, particularly the long-term makeup of the team's offensive line.
Bosa, who won the defensive rookie of the year in 2019, certainly noticed the difference of Sewell's blocking on Sunday vs. what showed up on film from the preseason.
“He’s going to be good," Bosa said. "He’s more comfortable on the left. I could tell. The tape I saw on the right was ... I told him after the game, he’s better on the left and he’s more comfortable on the left. He’s going to be a solid player, for sure.”
Decker, for what it's worth, hasn't played right tackle since his sophomore year at Ohio State in 2013. He has repeatedly expressed a preference to remain at left tackle.
"It’s not something that I’ve done in the past eight, nine years," Decker said last month when praising Sewell's commitment to the transition. "Just body mechanics. I have so many imbalances in my body just from being in a left stance for the last eight, nine years, and your body just gets used to that. Different things with your shoulders, different things with your hip, your back."