Detroit Lions’ Penei Sewell ‘being a grown man’ about possible to switch to RG

Detroit Free Press

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He never played a snap of offensive guard in high school or college. In fact, it’s been so long since Penei Sewell lined up at the position — since peewee football, probably — that he has no recollection of the experience at all.

“I remember being a fullback more than a guard back in the day,” Sewell said Wednesday.

The Detroit Lions spent Wednesday’s practice experimenting with different options at right guard to replace injured starter Halapoulivaati Vaitai.

Tommy Kraemer is one option, but he missed practice Wednesday with a back injury and likely will not be available for Sunday’s season opener against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Logan Stenberg could play the position. Stenberg practiced some at right guard this summer, but he has played four offensive snaps in his NFL career and has played almost exclusively on the left side since college.

Lions coach Dan Campbell said moving Pro Bowl center Frank Ragnow to guard, and having Evan Brown play center, is a third possibility. But that option was complicated Wednesday by the fact that Ragnow was limited in practice by a groin injury.

Sewell played both right guard and right tackle during the open portion of practice Wednesday and said he is willing to play wherever the Lions need him after bouncing between left and right tackle last season. If he plays guard, Matt Nelson, who started 11 games at tackle last season, would start at right tackle.

“Whatever it is, whatever he asks me to do I’m going to do regardless,” Sewell said. “Obviously, it’s going to be (different), but it is what it is. So it’s just the same thing as going to tackle, switching sides.”

Last year, Sewell played right tackle all training camp then moved to left tackle days before the season opener after Taylor Decker suffered a finger injury in practice. Sewell started eight games at both left and right tackle last season, and played his best football in the second half of the year when he moved back to the right side.

Sewell said his experience playing left tackle made him a better right tackle in the second half of last season, and he said that position flop “without a doubt” gives him confidence he can transition to guard now.

“I mean, I think it’s just ultimately up to me and what my mindset is on whatever task it is,” he said. “It’s just being a grown man about it, being a professional about it and whatever’s on my plate I got to, shoot, make a five-star meal out of it. So whatever’s presented to me, I’m going to do it to the best of my abiltiies and more.”

Vaitai, the Lions’ primary starting right guard the past two seasons, suffered a back injury in last month’s preseason finale against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Campbell said Vaitai’s injury does not require surgery, but there is no current timetable for his return.

The Lions placed Vaitai on injured reserve Monday, meaning he will miss at least the season’s first four games.

Asked if he had any regrets about playing his starters against the Steelers, when Vaitai and the rest of the starting offensive line played 29 snaps, Campbell said “no,” but added, “I hate it for him.”

“I really do,” he said. “I hate that.”

Sewell said he hated to hear news of Vaitai’s injury, too, not only because the Lions have high hopes for their line with all five starters returning from 2021, but because he and Vaitai are incredibly tight.

“Me and him have a very special relationship,” Sewell said. “It’s almost like he’s my uncle, but yeah, it’s tough. I was looking forward to this year, the things that we were doing in the preseason and even during training camp, it was going to be special. But when he comes back, it’s going to be on.”

Until then, the Lions will keep sifting through their options up front. If Sewell settles in as Vaitai’s replacement, he said he will do so with complete confidence he can get the job done.

“You just can’t lose that,” Sewell said. “The moment you are not trusting in your abilities to do your job, that’s just going to make your job 10 times harder. And then now you’re playing a mind game that you’ve created yourself. So just having that same confidence every time no matter who it is or what job I’m asked, just keep that same mindset throughout the whole time.”

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