The selection of Penei Sewell gave the Detroit Lions bookend tackles, but in order to make the bookends work, one is going to have to get used to the other end.
That man will be Sewell, the rookie out of Oregon whose sheer strength, power and explosiveness make him a marvel to witness. He might one day be considered a generational tackle, and ideally, those types play on the left side. Sewell, though, will be playing on the right, an adjustment he’s begun with rookie minicamp and OTAs.
“It is not that easy,” Sewell said Thursday, via the Detroit Free Press. “Man, it’s a whole different feel. Again, it’s like, let’s say I’m right-handed so I’ve been writing right-handed my whole life, and then one day you’re just asked to write your full name left-handed at full speed, the same speed that you write with your right hand. So yeah, it’s a little bit of an adjustment.”
We’ve heard similar statements made by premier rookie tackles in the past and as recently as a year ago, when Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs was being considered by left tackle-needy teams for the position. Wirfs got a little more, um, colorful with how he described the change, saying, “It kind of feels like wiping your butt with your other hand. It just feels a little awkward at first, but you get used to it.”
Fortunately for Wirfs, he didn’t need to spend much time worrying about making the switch because the team that drafted him in the first round, Tampa Bay, kept him on the right side. He ended up proving to be a stellar choice, earning PFWA All-Rookie Team honors and winning a Super Bowl in 2020.
Sewell has already had his immediate future decided for him, and, well, it’s going to take a little bit of time.
“He looks like a rookie,” Lions coach Dan Campbell said. “But he’s a big human being. He looks like what you would think he would look like. Man, he’s got talent, he’s hungry, he’s aggressive. Man, let’s just center back, calm down, watch how everybody does it. Watch the flow, watch your footwork here, take your steps, watch the cadence, listen to these things. Even in three days, you see him improving already. That’s all you can ask for right now. It’s good to have him here and to be with those guys, it’s exactly what you want.”
Traditional logic leads one to believe the right side of the line brings slightly less pressure, as most quarterbacks are right handed, so right tackles aren’t protecting their blind sides. But it’s not as much about blind sides these days as it is about shutting down the league’s evolving edge rushing talent, which seems to only improve with each season.
As such, tackles are as valuable as ever, and even if left tackles make slightly more than right tackles, the gap isn’t as wide as one would think. Sewell is going to matter a whole lot in Detroit, regardless of which end of the line he’s manning.
“I love the challenge and it’s something that I’m looking forward to,” Sewell said. “It takes me back to my high school days and looking forward to grow in that position.”
As Sewell learns the position, he’ll also start to develop an understanding of his new teammates and how Detroit’s offensive line operates. In the end, it’s likely that will matter more than which foot is leading the other in his stance.
Come August, Sewell should have his new position down pat — and as he did often at Oregon, be prepared to knock opposing defenders flat.
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