Detroit Lions’ first-round pick Penei Sewell: Switching from LT to RT ‘not that easy’

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions are planning for Penei Sewell to be their starting right tackle this fall, but the No. 7 pick of April’s NFL draft — a left tackle throughout his college career — said Thursday the position change is trickier than it looks.

“It is not that easy,” Sewell said on Day 3 of Organized Team Activities. “Man, it’s a whole different feel. Again, it’s like, let’s say I’m right-handed so I’ve been writing right-handed my whole life, and then one day you’re just asked to write your full name left-handed at full speed, the same speed that you write with your right hand. So yeah, it’s a little bit of an adjustment.”

Sewell has some background at right tackle: He played the position in high school, where he was an All-American and one of the most sought-after linemen in the 2017 recruiting class.

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But he flipped sides upon enrolling at Oregon and played that position exclusively during his two seasons at Oregon.

“I love the challenge and it’s something that I’m looking forward to,” said Sewell, who did practice some at right tackle in the buildup to the draft. “It takes me back to my high school days and looking forward to grow in that position.”

While the Lions are force-feeding Sewell reps to get him ready for the regular season, Lions coach Dan Campbell said it is more important this spring to get Sewell acquainted with the linemen he will share the field with: Taylor Decker, Jonah Jackson, Frank Ragnow and Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

“To be able to hear Frank and his calls, where we’re mike-ing, where we’re going to. Is Frank working my way? Is he not? Does the guard got me? I think those things are huge,” Campbell said. “I think more than any other group, I think the faster your offensive line can learn to mesh with each other and work together, I think you’re able to solve a lot more problems that much quicker. I think it’s big. To be able to work together and do fundamentals is huge for those guys up front.”

A late arrival to spring workouts after he missed rookie minicamp due to contracting COVID-19, Sewell has made a positive impression on his coaches so far.

Campbell said Sewell’s athleticism is evident at 6 feet 5 and 331 pounds, though he joked that he looked small next to the 6-7, 318-pound Decker.

“He looks like a rookie,” Campbell said. “But he’s a big human being. He looks like what you would think he would look like. Man, he’s got talent, he’s hungry, he’s aggressive. Man, let’s just center back, calm down, watch how everybody does it. Watch the flow, watch your footwork here, take your steps, watch the cadence, listen to these things. Even in three days, you see him improving already. That’s all you can ask for right now. It’s good to have him here and to be with those guys, it’s exactly what you want.”

Sewell explained this his decision to opt out of the 2020 season was not made over fear of contracting the virus but rather how the Pac-12 handled football, first cancelling the season then returning to play a shortened late-fall schedule of seven games.

He said he is in “good” health now, and feels at home being on the field.

“Being out here a couple days and kind of getting that ramp-up period and really recover from all that has been wonderful,” he said. “Being on the field really helps a lot because it kind of creates a different vibe for me that I get to be out there with the guys and play the sport that I love and be around all them, too. And to create that chemistry to build something special. So to be out there with them and to run around and have fun playing the sport that I sat out for way too long, again it’s something that I love to do and love to be here.”

Numbers game

Sewell will wear No. 58 for the Lions, the same number he wore in high school and at Oregon.

He said the number, which was made available when linebacker Jamie Collins switched to No. 8, is a tribute to his father.

“So my dad, he wore that number when he was in high school and on the island playing for Tafuna High School,” Sewell said. “I just kind of saw one of his pictures, his old pictures back when he was like the only person on the field with the tinted visor and I was like, ‘Oh, pops got some swag on the island.’ I don’t even know how he got that back then. So to see him wear that number, I wanted to really carry on his legacy and kind of carry out the dream that we both had and that’s what I want to do, 58.

“I’m glad that (Collins) switched numbers and, man, if he didn’t, I was going to try to persuade someone to get that number. But yeah, I’m glad I got 58.”

Welcome addition

It might cost him carries, but D’Andre Swift is all for the Lions signing free agent running back Todd Gurley.

Swift said Gurley, who took a free agent visit to Detroit on Thursday, would add “a lot” to a backfield that already consists of himself, veteran Jamaal Williams and rookie seventh-round pick Jermar Jefferson.

“Knowledge. Experience,” Swift said. “I’d be happy if he come here as well. I just want to compete with these guys. Just to have him in the building, that’d be good.”

Gurley, a Georgia product like Swift, had a career-low 678 yards rushing last season for the Atlanta Falcons. He was one of the most dangerous players in the NFL in 2017-18, when he scored 40 touchdowns and joined current Lions quarterback Jared Goff in helping the Los Angeles Rams reach the Super Bowl.

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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