Taylor Decker’s status for Detroit’s season-opening game against San Francisco “doesn’t seem real good,” which means the Lions will need to devise a backup plan.
It could help that Detroit used their first-round choice on the best left tackle in college football.
After established himself as a formidable left tackle at Oregon, Penei Sewell has spent the whole offseason retraining his head to play on the opposite side of the offensive line. On the surface, the Lions’ choice to move him to right tackle may appear confusing, but after signing Decker, the team’s starting left tackle, to a five-year agreement last September, it was the only option for the seventh-overall pick.
As a result, Sewell set out on a path to becoming a dependable right tackle. With only a few days until the Lions kick off the season, he’s putting the mental and physical changes he’s made behind him and returning to what he knows best.
Sewell said Friday that he’s spent the last two days largely at left tackle, prepared to take Decker’s spot while the Lions continue to play without their regular starter.
If it sounds perplexing, it probably is. Last year, Iowa left tackle Tristan Wirfs candidly described the difficulties of making the transfer, comparing it to executing a typical chore with the other hand, such as writing your complete name. Wirfs, in particular, presented a more colorful example to emphasize the problem.
“It kind of feels like wiping your butt with your other hand,” Wirfs said back in May of 2020. “It just feels a little awkward at first, but you get used to it.”
Sewell has been teaching himself how to do just that on the football field all summer. Now he’s going back to his old process. There’s a justifiable fear that it will further delay his development at the NFL level, of course, but the Lions are hoping his developed instinct proves stronger than his recent training.
Sewell came out of Oregon looking like a generational prospect at left tackle before he was selected by Detroit and sent on a path toward the right side of the line. He hasn’t been stellar so far, which is to be expected, but was at least on track to improve over time.
Could this prove to be a hurdle? Certainly, but it could also be an easier transition that allows Sewell to succeed quicker. Ultimately, though, there’s no future on the left side for Sewell, who said Friday he is “definitely” Detroit’s starting right tackle when Decker returns.
As for the rest of the line, coach Dan Campbell said the Lions have some options. Former tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai is listed as Detroit’s starting right guard, but a slide out to right tackle would make sense in the short term. Detroit would then need to elevate a backup to play right guard, a position that’s easier to fill in a time of need because the blocker isn’t often alone on an island like a tackle.
Campbell also mentioned backup tackle Matt Nelson as a potential candidate to take over at right tackle in place of Sewell.
Regardless, the Lions will look different on Sunday than they do on paper. Detroit is hoping they end up being effective, not disheveled, as they begin a campaign in which they hope to prove their many doubters wrong.