Expectations are sky high for rookie Detroit right tackle Penei Sewell, but as with every rookie, it will be a transition to the pros for Sewell.
After playing left tackle in college at Oregon, he has now been moved to RT and penciled in as the starter.
People might say, “How hard can it be to make that switch?”
From research, those who have made the position change - - or have tried to make that transition -- have said it is like learning to write with your other hand.
The speed of the pro game is a lot faster than college. The level of competition is also a lot more challenging.
It is very possible that Sewell never faced someone of the caliber of Trey Flowers while in college. Veterans have had years to work on their craft, and some are very polished.
Detroit veteran LT Taylor Decker spoke to that point, and talked about his early impressions of Sewell in camp.
"First of all, he’s impressive, (with) how he carries himself, and that confidence is a huge thing in this league," Decker said. "I think the big thing as a young player is to not let the name on the back of the jersey beat you. You might be playing against players you watched when you were in fifth grade, ‘I’ve seen this guy, I’ve watched that guy.' Don’t let that beat you.”
I will never forget an example of this, watching quarterback Robert Griffin III in his first preseason game for Washington against the Chicago Bears.
Griffin had made a name for himself in college at Baylor, running wild and making defenses adjust to him.
In one of the first plays of the game, Griffin rolled right, and looked like he wanted to take off down the right sideline -- just like he used to at Baylor. Only this time, then-Bears linebacker Lance Briggs was right there to meet Griffin when he hit the edge. Griffin got up with this “Oh wow" look on his face. His eyes looked really surprised, as the camera did a close up and captured the then-rookie passer's reaction to the punishing hit.
It was clear then that "RGIII" was no longer the “big man on campus."
That is an adjustment every rookie has to make.
There is also a new playbook and terminology, which is like learning a second language. There is just not much time to figure it all out.
Let's take a look now at three specific things that Sewell must accomplish while in training camp.
1.) Work on his footwork
I evaluated him extensively at Oregon, and I projected him pre-draft to move to guard.
Ironically, I compared him very favorably to Detroit's starting RG Halapoulivaati Vaitai, because of his footwork. I evaluated "Big V" in Philadelphia prior to him signing with Detroit, and I did not see any way, with his subpar footwork, that he could hold up at RT for the Lions (which is where Detroit originally had him penciled in).
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The Lions eventually discovered the same thing, and moved him to right guard, which is where he now lines up next to Sewell. Additionally, Sewell now faces the same exact challenge, in my mind.
Sewell showed a consistent tendency in college to stop moving his feet and waist bend, once he was strongly engaged with a defender.
He got by in college doing this, but this is going to get him killed in the NFL, if he does not get this fixed quickly via the tutelage of Detroit offensive line coach Hank Fraley.
2.) Needs to improve hand-placement techniques
The second area of focus for Sewell is his hand work.
On film at Oregon, he tended to place his hands wide and outside on the defender at the initial point of attack. That is not ideal in the NFL.
He needs to perfect the ability to consistently place his hands inside on the numbers and at the point of attack.
Placing his hands outside allows the opportunity for defenders to get Sewell off balance, gain leverage and and ultimately to gain an advantage in the matchup.
3.) Learn the finer points of the game
The third thing Sewell needs to accomplish in camp is staying after practice to work on moves and techniques with any veteran who is willing to work with him.
He needs to humbly realize that he is a rookie who needs to ask for help from those who have waged war in the NFL trenches.
In the NFC North alone, Sewell will face pass-rushers such as Akiem Hicks (CHI), Preston Smith (GB) and star defensive end Danielle Hunter (MIN).
If Sewell does not accomplish these aforementioned things, it will take the equipment guy even longer every week to get Lions QB Jared Goff’s jersey clean.
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