For Penei Sewell, the Detroit Lions’ first padded practice of training camp Tuesday was “like when you’re out in the desert and you take that first sip of water.”
“To be out there again, to strap it on, to put the helmet back on again, it’s a feeling that I forgot about,” Sewell said. “It’s something that I’ve been craving for a minute that I didn’t know I was craving.”
Sewell had not played football in pads in more than a year, since Oregon held its last of four spring practices before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down much of sports last March.
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The Lions’ first-round pick, No. 7 overall, opted out of last season and said he did not have a single live rep like what he experienced Tuesday during his pre-draft training.
“To be able to put on the pads again after a year and a half, it’s a new feeling and it’s a feeling that I forgot throughout the process of sitting out,” Sewell said. “And I’m just not taking anything for granted, so it’s a blessing to be out here, to wake up every day to do what I do, so that’s how I approach things.”
The Lions are counting on Sewell to play a big role on offense this fall.
He has taken almost every first-team rep at right tackle since the start of training camp and is expected to join a line that returns left tackle Taylor Decker, left guard Jonah Jackson, center Frank Ragnow, right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai and now-swing tackle Tyrell Crosby as starters.
Both Decker and Ragnow are past first-round picks who were immediate starters as rookies, and both have given Sewell counsel on making a smooth transition to the pros.
“I would say just first of all, just coming in, he’s impressive how he carries himself and like confidence is a huge thing in this league,” Decker said. “He’s here because he’s supposed to be here and he belongs here, so play with that confidence. I know he’s young, he’s very young, but he’s picked up the playbook really quickly, learns well, he’s confident and obviously he’s physically gifted. He’s going to be just fine.”
Decker had a welcome-to-the-NFL moment early in his rookie season, when he was called for a holding penalty and allowed a sack-fumble to James Harrison on consecutive plays in his preseason debut against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Sewell surely will experience similar growing pains.
“I think the big thing as a young player is not letting the name on the back of the jersey beat you,” Decker said. “Whoever you’re playing against, don’t let the name on the back of the jersey beat you because you still have to go out there and they still have to beat you. So you do you. I’m going to do my shit, what I’m good at, and that player has to beat me.
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“That’s a huge thing as a young player at any position cause you might be playing against guys that you watched when you were in fifth grade like I did my rookie year. … But don’t let that beat you because obviously you’ve grown up, you’re a big boy now and you belong in this league.”
Sewell, who last played an actual game 580 days ago, on Jan. 1, 2020, in the Rose Bowl against Wisconsin, said he considers himself a right tackle now despite having played exclusively on the left side in college.
He’s spent most of camp working against the Lions’ top pass rusher, Romeo Okwara, and that experience has helped steel him for what lies ahead.
“That man’s putting me through the ringer and I couldn’t have asked any better than that cause I know that I’m getting his best and I try my best to give him mine,” Sewell said. “And so it’s a blessing again to be out there and go against him so I can get ready for this upcoming season and, yeah, I look forward to the battles each and every day.”
Lions head coach Dan Campbell was juiced enough for Tuesday’s practice that he said he did not need an extra cup of his morning coffee.
“No, you don’t need it today,” he said. “You don’t need the extra coffee. Not with the pads on. So, normal coffee today. Next cup of coffee will be out there when we do team run.”
Campbell made light of his coffee-swigging habits in his introductory news conference in January, when he said he didn’t want to work with only “a bunch of people who drink a gallon of coffee like I do in a day.”
On Tuesday, he said his usual highly-caffeinated coffee order from Starbucks is “two venti of the Pike with two shots in them.”
“So black in both,” he said. “That’s what I come in with. That’s how I start the day.”