Penei Sewell is just 22 years old and already one of the best tackles in the game. The No. 7 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft is an athletic freak who made the Pro Bowl in just his second season.
He enters Year 3 as one of the key players for an offensive line that's expected to be one of the best in football. Sewell is still the young man on a veteran offensive line but he started to find his voice last season and enjoyed stepping into more of a leadership role. It's something he hopes to carry into this year.
"I think it definitely starts in the locker room," Sewell said of finding his voice. "That's where we spend the most of our time with each other and get away from football and actually learn about the human being across from you that you're going to war with. I think it starts there."
Sewell said he got fiery and vocal in Detroit's Week 13 win over Jacksonville, and he liked the way his teammates responded to seeing that from him.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell supports a player-led environment. Young players like Sewell, wide receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown and defensive lineman Aidan Hutchinson are the young core and next in line for leadership.
We've seen St. Brown step up and take on more of a vocal role in the past year. It's good to see it with Sewell too. It won't be long for Hutchinson if he continues to produce and earn the respect of his teammates.
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Sewell played in 100 percent of the offensive snaps last season and allowed just two sacks and six quarterback hits in 17 starts. Detroit's offensive line allowed just 24 sacks total all season, ranking second in the NFL behind Tampa Bay (22). The Lions' rate of surrendering sacks on only 3.9 percent of their drop backs ranked as the third best in the NFL.
With four returning starters upfront and the return of 2021 starting right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai, who missed all of last season with a back injury, this offensive line carries a lot of expectations into the season.
"Shoot, sky is the limit," Sewell said. "Definitely off the bat expectations are way higher than last year. We're coming out with different intent and different purpose than we were here last year. Attention to detail has to go up. Room for error shortens a lot."
Sewell and his offensive linemates expect to be the best in the league. He will be a big part of that success both with his play on the field and his new-found voice in the locker room.