During one of his first competitive drills in pads, Detroit Lions offensive tackle Penei Sewell—who has gone nearly two full years without a live rep in pads—knocked Julian Okwara back, causing the defender to nearly lose his balance. After the quick three-on-three rep was over, Sewell let loose a victorious scream that could be heard from any sideline.
“I’ll bring the juice each and every day,” Sewell said after practice. “That’s just who I am. Leave it at that. More juice, all that. You will see and feel me out there.”
It hasn’t been an easy road for Sewell. He’s had to shake off a year’s worth of rust after opting out of Oregon football last year. Now he’s going through a positional change, shifting from the position he played at for two years in college (left tackle) back to the position he played in high school four years ago (right tackle).
Back during organized team activities and minicamp in the spring, Sewell honestly admitted the transition wasn’t going swimmingly.
“It is not that easy,” Sewell said back in May. “Everybody thinks it is, but, man, it’s a whole different feel. Again, it’s like I’m right handed. I’ve been 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.”
However, Sewell has had over two months since those practices, and now he feels like he belongs on the right side.
“Now, I’m a right tackle,” Sewell said confidently.
Head coach Dan Campbell sees it, too. Prior to the beginning of padded practices, Campbell watched all the offseason film leading up to Tuesday’s practice with a specific focus on Sewell. The growth was obvious.
“He is adapting quickly,” Campbell said. “Now, today is the first day in pads, but I’m just watching him against Romeo (Okwara) and there are some rushes in there and some run stuff and Romeo is doing a hell of a job with his hands and he’s jerking him.”
Sewell’s first day in pads had its ups and downs. There were times his athleticism and strength were on display. There were times his inexperience was noticeable. But he hardly ever looked out of place on the field.
If there’s one person who has expedited the maturation process for Sewell it’s been edge defender Romeo Okwara. The veteran defender, who finished with a career-high 10 sacks last year, will be Sewell’s biggest challenge this summer. Campbell knows it. Sewell knows it already from first-hand experience.
“That man’s putting me through the wringer,” Sewell said, “and I couldn’t have asked for anything better than that, because I know that I’m getting his best and I try my best to give him mine. It’s a blessing again to be out there and go against him so I can get ready for this season. I look forward to the battles every day.”