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After third-round pick Jonah Jackson, who has started every game at offensive guard, the Detroit Lions’ best rookie the first quarter of the season might be defensive tackle John Penisini.
A sixth-round selection out of Utah, Penisini has played a small but increasing role on defense the first four games and has outshone fellow defensive draft picks Jeff Okudah and Julian Okwara.
“He has done a nice job for us,” defensive coordinator Cory Undlin said Monday. “I think just like any rookie coming in no matter what position you play, it takes a little bit of time to get into the scheme and he, what he has done is just put his head down and keep working.”
Penisini played a season-high 22 snaps in the Lions’ Week 4 loss to the New Orleans Saints and had five tackles, including one for loss.
A run-stuffing nose tackle at Utah, Penisini played sparingly in a season-opening loss to the Chicago Bears but has since seen steady snaps with Nick Williams battling a shoulder injury.
“He’s got lower body power,” defensive line coach Bo Davis said. “He plays with low pad level and that’s the thing that really helps him because he’s got strength and it’s just something that you have to continue to work on over and over and rep it … until it becomes a habit for you. But he’s been pretty consistent doing it and that’s the thing that stands out with him. He’s always getting his hands inside and playing with good pad level.”
The Lions rank last in the NFL at 170.3 rushing yards allowed per game, but Davis said Williams, Danny Shelton and the Lions’ other veteran defensive lineman have helped make Penisini an effective player.
“I give credit to where credit is due,” Davis said. “The older guys have really done a good job with him and he’s progressed in being physical at the point of attack. I mean, the guy’s coming along well. I’m really proud of him.”
Lions coach Matt Patricia declined to say Monday if anyone in the organization is currently battling COVID-19.
The Lions have not placed a player on the reserve/COVID-19 list since the opening week of training camp, though the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the league.
Eight games were rescheduled this weekend due to outbreaks with the New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, and the NFL will host a Tuesday game this week for the first time since 2010 and the second time in 74 years.
“I think it’s really important for us all the way across the board, even outside of sports, just to make sure that everyone is doing all they can to stay safe,” Patricia said. “Certainly, we’re still in a pandemic. We’re still dealing with COVID, and it hasn’t gone away, and from that aspect of it, I think everyone should just be careful. Certainly, for us in our world, it’s critical for us to make sure we’re taking care of each other and taking care of ourselves. We do know that there’s a little bit of an uptick right now all the way across the board in the country with the COVID outbreaks. So we just have to be as careful – and even more careful than what we have been previously.”
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Monday former Lions receiver Travis Fulgham’s recent success with the Philadelphia Eagles caught him by surprise.
Fulgham, a sixth-round pick out of Old Dominion in 2019, spent most of last season on the Lions practice squad and was cut during training camp. He spent time briefly with the Green Bay Packers before landing in Philadelphia, where he had 10 catches for 152 yards and a touchdown in Sunday’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“I would say, yes, (I’m) a little bit surprised,” Bevell said. “I think it’s his third team that he’s been on and Travis did OK while he was here. I don’t want to get into all the reasons behind what happened (with his release), but we’re happy for his success, that’s for sure.”
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