With Taylor Decker likely out for Sunday’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers, the Detroit Lions are debating how to replace their veteran left tackle.
Decker suffered a hand injury in practice Wednesday likely will require surgery.
Head coach Dan Campbell said Friday that Decker suffered the injury making a normal punch in pass protection and is scheduled to meet with doctors Friday. Surgery seems likely, Campbell said.
In Decker’s absence, the Lions are considering three options for how to reconfigure their offensive line:
• Rookie first-round pick Penei Sewell could move from right to left tackle, the position he played during his two standout seasons at Oregon. Sewell, the No. 7 pick of April’s draft, practiced exclusively at right tackle in training camp but did some left tackle work in practice Thursday.
• Swing tackle Matt Nelson could replace Decker. Nelson, a converted defensive lineman, made his only career start late last season at right tackle in a Week 14 game against the Green Bay Packers. Nelson has limited NFL experience with 241 career snaps.
• Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai could move to left tackle, with Logan Stenberg starting at guard. Vaitai signed as a free agent to play right tackle, but suffered through an injury riddled first season in Detroit. Vaitai played primarily guard in 2020, but played left tackle for part of the 2017 season with the Philadelphia Eagles and started at the position in the Super Bowl.
“Yesterday we started thinking about this and luckily we’ve got a lot of flexibility because Nelson has played a little bit,” Campbell said. “Certainly we have Sewell and then having Logan be able to move up and bump Vaitai, so we’ve got some options we’re going to play with.”
One consideration with moving Sewell to left tackle is how that might hinder the progress he has made at his new position.
Sewell, who last played right tackle in a game in high school, struggled at times this preseason in pass protection, but coaches have said they are pleased with his progress at his new position.
“If that’s where we ended up going with it, that’s what he did play in college and it’s something that he’s comfortable with,” Campbell said. “But he’s also getting pretty comfortable at right, so that’s what we’re going to need to – it’s that fine balance between who do you feel like is best to move to the left side versus he’s a rookie and he’s getting better on the right side and let’s keep him there knowing that Decker will be back in a little bit. So that’s kind of the balance that we’re playing with.”
However the Lions slot their offensive line, they figure to be challenged by a 49ers pass rush that ranks among the best in the NFL.
Nick Bosa, who plays primarily at right defensive end, where he aligns against opposing left tackles, had nine sacks and was NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, but missed most of last season with a knee injury. Left defensive end Arik Armstead has 22.5 career sacks, and Dee Ford has two double-digit sack seasons in his seven-year career but missed most of last season with injury.