How Detroit Lions OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai helped Penei Sewell’s rookie transition

Detroit Free Press

Penei Sewell had a standout rookie season starting games at left and right tackle, and Detroit Lions coach Dan Campbell said veteran left guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai deserves an assist for Sewell’s play.

Sewell and Vaitai formed a close relationship last season, while playing part of the season side by side, with Campbell joking the two would “go and drink Kava together at night.”

Vaitai’s parents are Tongan, while Sewell spent the early part of his childhood in American Samoa.

“No, listen, it’s been good,” Campbell said. “It’s been good because Big V is, he’s kind of a calming presence. He is smart, he’s a veteran guy. He’s been there and so that was somebody that he did gravitate to early and it did just kind of help him along the way. And so they have a great relationship.”

Sewell has spent the spring practicing primarily at left tackle while Taylor Decker recovers from a late-season foot injury.

He is expected to shift back to right tackle during the regular season, with Vaitai playing his second full year at right guard.

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Sewell earned the highest grade of any Lions offensive lineman from Pro Football Focus last season. He allowed seven sacks, but just one of those came in his final eight games at right tackle.

Decker said earlier this spring he “100%” expects Sewell to make a big jump as a player in Year 2.

“I think especially down the stretch last year, he was playing great and he’s just young,” Decker said. “And him this offseason, (he has) gotten significantly stronger, at least from what I’ve seen in the weight room. And then I think with him, and this reaches back to going into the stretch last year, just confident.

“He’s a confident player, so our room is a very confident room, talented room and we all just get along really well. The camaraderie and cohesiveness as a group is off the charts. It’s incredible, so I’m really excited to see what we do as a group and I think he’s going to have an (awesome) year.”

Dear John

Campbell said defensive tackle John Penisini was excused from Tuesday’s minicamp practice for reasons he did not disclose. Penisini also missed both of the Lions’ open Organized Team Activity workouts.

“I’m going to see him tonight,” Campbell said. “I know what’s going on with him, so he’s good.”

The Lions have two more mandatory minicamp practices Wednesday and Thursday and close their formal offseason program with more voluntary. OTAs next week.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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