Lions mailbag: Addressing the Taylor Decker-Penei Sewell dilemma

Detroit News

Allen Park — It’s been a while since I’ve checked the mailbox and that’s on me. Things have been busy, you know? But there was a window this week, so let’s tackle those Detroit Lions questions in an mailbag.

► Question: Do you think Taylor Decker will be moved to RT, or is this too early to tell? — @Wayne59779066

► Q: The Lions don’t have the luxury of a log jam at left tackle with so many other needs. Should they trade Decker for a draft pick or find a team that needs an LT and has a premium corner they’re willing to trade? — @andyallen85

► Answer: I wanted to lump these two questions together because the Penei Sewell-Decker dynamic has been the hottest conversation among Lions fans this week.

First and foremost, I would encourage everyone to pump the brakes a bit. The Lions are in no rush to make any decisions as long as Decker is sidelined, following last week’s surgery. And despite Sewell’s impressive debut, which is netting him all kinds of deserved praise, it was one week, and you should never make decisions off that small of a sample size.

When Decker comes back, and it probably won’t be for at least another month, the Lions should take stock in how Sewell has looked through that stretch of games and determine whether it’s worth trying to alter their initial long-term vision, not just for the player, but the unit.

What we know is Decker hasn’t played right tackle in eight years. He’s made it clear, dating back to the scouting combine ahead of the 2016 draft, he had no interest in moving to right tackle. Some of that is a financial conversation, but at this point, the muscle memory he’s built up through his offseason training regiment and more than 4,600 regular-season snaps would understandably make the transition difficult.

Remember, we saw Sewell struggle with the switch and he doesn’t have nearly the muscle memory to overcome as Decker.

That said, I think if the Lions approached Decker and convinced him they believed it was best for the team, he would do it. Privately, he might not be thrilled, but he’s also the type of player who would set aside his pride for the team. Plus, he already got paid.

As for trading Decker, that’s any even further look into the future, but I don’t see how it makes much sense unless both Sewell and he prove incapable of having success on the right side. The Lions invested so much in making their offensive line a clear strength, and trading Decker immediately negates that effort.

Let’s be clear, dealing him would likely net a solid return. I could easily see him bringing back a first-rounder, or two Day 2 selections. But then you’re going to have to turn around and draft a replacement with those assets, because free agency is typically filled with overpriced fool’s gold like Rick Wagner.

Draft picks are great, and the Lions should be looking to add as many as possible to facilitate their rebuild, but not necessarily at the cost of dumping preexisting foundational pieces. I still believe Decker, at age 28, falls into that category.

► Q: At what point do we start to feel like Will Harris is never going to get it?

► A: It’s reasonable to give the new coaching staff a shot at developing Harris, but I think we’re definitely going to know by the end of this season, and probably well before Week 18.

Harris is a conundrum, and I think you can make a reasonable comparison to Jarrad Davis, another former Lions player who inexplicably never lived up to his potential. The two are similar in a sense they possess top-tier athleticism, unimpeachable football character and are accountable. But for some reason, for both players, it’s never clicked.

The coaching staff has been hyping up Harris through the offseason, but in the Week 1 loss to San Francisco, he was blowing the same assignments that have hurt him the past two seasons. Again, if we’re legitimately hitting the rest button in 2021, the sample size is too small to make a fair evaluation. Let’s check back after five or six games and see if there’s any signs of rounding the corner.

► Q: How could the Lions scouts/Bob Quinn have been so wrong with the pick of Jeff Okudah at third overall?  — @B_Lake007

► A: I don’t think we can say that. First of all, in my pre-draft conversations with people, one non-Lions scout told me he could make a strong case that Okudah was the best player in the draft and he wouldn’t have hesitated to take him with the No. 1 overall pick, over Chase Young.

Basically, I’m pointing that out because you need to understand the Lions weren’t alone in their assessment of Okudah. While I can’t say the praise was universal coming out of Ohio State, the overwhelming consensus, both public and off the record, is he was the best cornerback in the class.

Has it gone poorly to this point? Yes, without a doubt. But I was never comfortable making any proclamations after a rookie season where he didn’t have a real offseason, was hurt in training camp and was playing on a defense that had no pass rush. It was a cocktail for disaster and played out predictably.

Additionally, there was also nothing in the scouting report that suggested durability would be a real concern. You can’t always foresee these things and for all the issues we can pin on the previous regime, this isn’t one.

If you want to say they should have drafted Derrick Brown or Isaiah Simmons, I hear you. Quarterback, as we’ve covered many times, was never going to be an option for a GM and coach with their jobs on the line.

► Q: Dan Campbell said in Sunday’s postgame presser he wants more explosive plays on offense, particularly in the passing game. Does Jared Goff have the capabilities? — @Man35Michigan

► Q: Can Goff throw downfield? Why the constant checkdowns? Scared? Ball protection? Accuracy issues? All of the above? — @jmwhitejmwhite

► A: This was something I covered in our “Four Downs” segment this week, and also a film-based scouting report I did shortly after the Lions traded for Goff. Both statistical and visual data suggests he’s not fond of throwing the ball deep.

Part of that is his arm strength. While certainty adequate to succeed at this level, it is relatively average when compared to the league’s other starting quarterbacks. On top of that, all signs point to him being conservative, by nature.

You see it on the practice field, when he sees a potential shot play, but thinks better of it and opts for the shorter, more open throw. Unlike Matthew Stafford, Goff isn’t one to jam a ball into a tight window, trusting his receiver to make the play.

Additionally, with the Rams, most of Goff’s deep attempts were toward the sideline, where he had the security of the sideline if he made a mistake.

As I said in the “Four Downs,” Campbell might want more explosive plays in the pass game, I just don’t know how they’re going to squeeze them out of Goff.

► Q: Beyond the pick-six, does Goff have an accuracy issue or does the problem lie with receivers blowing their assignments? — @BrokenBanter

► A: In that aforementioned film study, I didn’t see persistent issues with Goff’s accuracy on short and intermediate routes. Again, using Stafford as our barometer, I thought Goff was better at hitting his receivers in stride.

Now, you’re right, that didn’t show up in the opener. It could have been a bad day, but more likely it has to do with the quarterback’s still-developing chemistry with many of his weapons.

Despite his efforts to get in work with those pass-catchers throughout the offseason, you just can’t simulate full-speed game reps. On top of that, Tyrell Williams, T.J. Hockenson and D’Andre Swift all missed significant practice time during training camp, while Trinity Benson just got here.

I guess, for better or worse, we’re back to a sample size conversation.

► Q: Josh Gordon might be available. Not sure Goff could put the ball in his hands, though. I don’t have a question. — @TonyTuccini

► A: I got quite a few comments about Gordon in my mentions after the NFLPA recommended he be reinstated by the league. Obviously, he still has to clear that final hurdle before he’s eligible to sign with a team, but why not Detroit some have wondered.

From a talent perspective, he’s a better version of Breshad Perriman, who the Lions originally envisioned filling that No. 2 receiver spot. Gordon has rare speed to not only beat defenses over the top, he’s also lethal running crossing patterns, which I think is something Goff could utilize.

But talent has never been the question with Gordon. It’s the off-field stuff, the inability to fend off his addiction and keep his career on track.

Obviously, the risk for the Lions would be moderate, at worst, but what’s the long-term value in the move? My belief is they’d rather use those snaps to develop the young options on the roster — Amon-Ra St. Brown, Quintez Cephus and Benson.

► Q: Plenty has been made of Sewell’s solid week 1 individual performance, but I haven’t heard anything about any of the other rookies. Anything optimistic there? — @apendygraft

► A: Alim McNeill played less than I anticipated and didn’t flash the same dominance against the 49ers as he did on the practice field. St. Brown had some nice routes, including one where he got open deep down the sideline for a would-be touchdown but Goff overthrew him. Derrick Barnes only saw five defensive snaps, in part because he got banged up while covering a kick.

Probably the best rookie performer outside of Sewell was A.J. Parker, the undrafted slot cornerback. He didn’t play a ton (21 snaps), but he was reliable with his assignments.

In the grand scheme of things, most rookies don’t play well out the gate. The transition to this league is tough and growing pains are to be expected. It will be a better conversation to have at the end of the year, to see how those young players are tracking heading into Year 2.

► Q: How is Tyrell Crosby, any chance at a reunion to play RT? — @ChocoBunz4ever

► A: I don’t have an update on Crosby’s health, but wanted to explain the logistics of why it’s unlikely he plays for the Lions this season. Yes, he’s currently on injured reserve, but unlike Decker, Crosby is not eligible to return. That’s because he was placed on IR before final cuts. That rule is in place to prevent teams from stashing players.

If the injury isn’t serious, he could reach an injury settlement with the team. That would be based on expected recovery time and jointly agreed on by the team and player. After reaching a settlement, he’d be free to sign with any other team as soon as he was healthy, but he couldn’t re-sign with the Lions until three weeks after the length of the settlement.

So, if the Lions pay him a six-week injury settlement, he wouldn’t be able to re-sign with the team for nine weeks. Given his talent and resume, it’s a safe bet Crosby would find another home instead of waiting extra time to rejoin Detroit.

► Q: As a reporter, what have you noticed as being a difference between Matt Patricia and Dan Campbell? — @shmaraksmpr

► A: That would be a lengthy list, but strictly from a reporting perspective, the biggest difference is Campbell is the same guy during press conferences as he is away from a microphone.

Patricia, like many coaches, tended to lean heavily on cliches and generalities when asked questions on record. He was much more colorful, honest and interesting in off-record sessions, something he made an effort to do more his final two years in Detroit. That can still be incredibly helpful to a reporter, shaping their understanding of the coach’s thinking, but on-record comments are always preferred.

► Q: Who covers Davante Adams on Monday night? — @lions_bucks_fan

► A: When Okudah was healthy, the Lions were largely playing sides with their cornerbacks. Until we have visual evidence that’s going to change, I imagine they’ll stick with the setup against the Packers.

If they do switch it up, Amani Oruwariye is obviously the answer. Regardless, Aaron Rodgers is probably licking his chops at the prospect of getting some mismatches against Ifeatu Melifonwu and Parker in the slot.

► Q: It seems like there are a lot of things this team needs to “clean up” before the next game. Which do you believe is the most critical to clean up first? — @JackrabbitTroll

► A: Early-down run defense.

The Lions’ front was porous against the run versus the 49ers, resulting in a lot of second- and third-and-short situations. That’s a recipe for a bad defensive performance.

If Detroit can force more third-and-longs, they flashed some ability to get after the quarterback with pressure packages. That should result in more punts and potentially even a few more turnovers.

► Q: Will we ever hear the name Clayton Kershaw mentioned during a Lions broadcast again? — @MarkVanBuren

► A: Kershaw has a son, so it’s possible the Lions draft him in 2037, bringing everything full circle. And, yes, I would expect he would be married to one of the four Stafford daughters.

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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