Detroit Lions observations: Assessing Penei Sewell’s play a month into training camp

Detroit Free Press

The Detroit Lions will sit the vast majority of their starters for Friday’s preseason finale against the Indianapolis Colts, but it appears as if they plan to play one prominent member of their offensive line.

Rookie first-round pick Penei Sewell worked with a makeshift first-team offense at his usual right tackle spot Tuesday, when the Lions spent most of practice preparing for the Colts.

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When the starting defense gave the presumptive starting offense scout-team looks, Sewell was the only starting lineman on the field, playing alongside Logan Stenberg, Evan Brown, Tommy Kraemer and Matt Nelson.

Sewell has endured his share of ups and downs this summer, though nothing out of the ordinary for a rookie switching positions (from left to right tackle) and playing for the first time in 19 months (after opting out of 2020).

He’s incredibly athletic. He gets to second-level blocks with ease, and has an uncanny ability to mirror a spin move. But his technique needs refinement as it’s clear he sometimes won in college on sheer talent alone.

Through two preseason games, losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills, Sewell has played 43 offensive snaps. With another 20 or so Friday, he will essentially have one game under his belt before the regular season begins, and that’s a good thing.

“I think the more that he gets, the better it is for him,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said this week. “I think that, and I bring this up, look, he got beat a few times, but yet, I’m not discouraged and neither should he be. The important thing is that he learns from that. Every time he gets a fastball from a dang good rusher like Melvin Ingram (last week against the Steelers) … those are so beneficial for Sewell to see and learn from and adjust. So I’m encouraged.”

Sewell won’t be the only rookie on the field Friday, which makes sense since the Lions appear to be counting on draft picks Alim McNeill and Amon-Ra St. Brown and undrafted free agent A.J. Parker to also have Prominent Week 1 roles.

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“I know you guys probably get tired of me saying it, but it just is. For (Sewell) and even McNeill to get different looks against different players, it’s good for those guys,” Campbell said. “So, yeah, I think he needs more reps because I know it will benefit him.”

More observations from Tuesday

• Three prominent players did not practice Tuesday: Cornerback Jeff Okudah, receiver Tyrell Williams and defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand. Hand is dealing with a groin injury and could miss the start of the regular season, while Okudah said he is not injured and was just adhering to a rep plan set forth by coaches.

• Another light set of observations because of Tuesday’s practice structure, where the regular first-team offense ran the scout-team cards against Friday’s presumptive starting defense. Rookie Ifeatu Melifonwu filled in for Okudah at left cornerback, the only change to the regular back seven. The Lions played their starting secondary against the Steelers, but sat linebackers Alex Anzalone and Jamie Collins, both of whom were on the field against the scout-team offense Tuesday.

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• Randy Bullock outkicked Zane Gonzalez on Tuesday, making all four his tries at the end of the first two team periods while Gonzalez went 4-for-6. Bullock seems likely to win the kicking job, but there’s no guarantee he holds the job all season. If I were the Lions, I wouldn’t be mad if my offense stalled out a time or two around the 30-yard line Friday in order to get Bullock and Gonzalez long kicks in the game.

• The Lions could be reaching critical mass at the tight end position. Alize Mack left practice after taking an awkward hit from Corn Elder on a play across the middle, but returned after a brief sojourn in the locker room. Later in practice, Brock Wright limped off the field alongside a trainer. The Lions do not want to play T.J. Hockenson against the Colts as he’s still returning from a shoulder injury. As a veteran guaranteed of a roster spot, Darren Fells might deserve combat pay if he has to play four quarters on Friday.

• I’ve mentioned Tim Boyle’s impressive arm a number of times in observations going back to spring. Accuracy has been Boyle’s bugaboo, though it’s highly unlikely to cost him a roster spot.

An example from practice Tuesday: Boyle threw a pass to Sage Surratt over the middle in one of the final team periods of practice. Surratt turned backwards towards the line of scrimmage to make the catch, and his momentum caused him to reverse pivot as he turned upfield — right into the lap of Will Harris, who was able to knock the ball loose for a fumble or incompletion.

Had Boyle hit Surratt in stride, Surratt could have continued running and protected the ball from Harris.

• Alijah Holder, who is making a bid for a practice squad spot at safety, caused a fumble with a big hit on Javon McKinley a few plays later.

• I’ve been on the Lions about not throwing the ball down field much, and I do wonder how often Jared Goff will tempt fate by throwing into tight windows deep. But Goff did complete one bomb late in practice Tuesday, to Kalif Raymond, who had about 5 yards on Parker down the right sideline. Raymond has some juice vertically, though he is one of the smallest players on the Lions roster at 5 feet 8 and 182 pounds.

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• Stick with the receivers for one final note, since Campbell has said several times there is a roster spot still up for grabs at the position, I think Victor Bolden has probably played himself out of a job the last couple weeks. He had a rough preseason opener against the Bills, when he couldn’t handle two passes thrown in his area, and he had another drop on a Boyle pass Friday when he got his feet tangled with Amani Oruwariye on the play.

• Wednesday’s practice is the final one open to the media in its entirety, so that will mark my final set of observations for the summer. Thanks for reading, and hope you learned plenty about your team.

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

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