Taylor Decker missed practice Thursday because of a finger injury, leaving the Detroit Lions with a major question mark at left tackle ahead of Sunday’s season opener against the San Francisco 49ers.
“Obviously, Taylor’s one of those guys that’s been a captain the last couple years and just a guy that you feed off of,” tight end T.J. Hockenson said. “But I mean, on the same hand it’s next man up. Matt Nelson’s a good player. He’s been in it with us the last couple years, Nelson has, so I think he’s ready for the challenge and excited to stick up.”
Decker first appeared on the Lions’ practice report Wednesday, and the team signed offensive tackle Will Holden to the practice squad Thursday morning.
If he cannot play Sunday, the Lions could play Nelson at left tackle or shift rookie Penei Sewell from the right to left side.
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Sewell played exclusively on the right side this summer, but was a standout left tackle during his two seasons at Oregon.
“I thought he did some good things (in the preseason),” Lions offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn said of Sewell. “Obviously, he had some struggles, but as long as you learn from those struggles and continue to improve, that’s the most important thing.”
Sewell allowed a sack on his third snap of the preseason, against fellow rookie Gregory Rousseau, but Lynn said he showed steady improvement in pass protection during camp.
The No. 7 overall pick in April’s draft, Sewell finished the preseason as one of the lowest-graded rookies in the league, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Let me just say preseason, that’s when you learn, that’s when you grow,” Lynn said. “That’s what preseason’s for. He didn’t play at all last year. He sat out. Now, getting back up to speed with the NFL players in this game, yeah, that was a challenge for him a little bit but this young man’s doing a lot of good things.”
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Regardless who starts at left tackle Sunday, the Lions will have their hands full with a fierce 49ers pass rush.
Nick Bosa, the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2019, is healthy after an injuryriddled 2020, and the 49ers also return veterans Arik Armstead and Dee Ford.
The Lions have three first-round picks on their offensive line in Decker, Sewell and center Frank Ragnow, but are thin in the second group. Right guard Halapoulivaati Vaitai has experience at right tackle, and Nelson can play both tackle positions.
Hockenson called Sewell “a baller” and noted that Nelson “blocked Khalil Mack last year, so I think we’ll be all right up front,” adding, “I mean, I’m not real worried about it.”
“Football’s one of those games where it’s next man up and he can’t really think about stuff like that, you just kind of have to move on,” Hockenson said. “Obviously, Taylor’s a great player and we definitely would love to have him. When he comes back, whenever that is, we’re going to keep rolling. But that’s not something that you can’t really think about and you can’t really hang your hat on.”
Contact Dave Birkett at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.