Clad in Oregon green and tipping the scales at 6-foot-6, 360 pounds as a true freshman in 2018, Ducks offensive lineman Penei Sewell may have looked something like The Hulk to his opponents at times.
Then, as a sophomore, he started to play like him, too.
Sewell had been promising as a freshman, as evidenced by his all-conference honorable mention selection by Pac-12 coaches, but he took his talent to a new level in 2019. That was when Alex Mirabal, Oregon's offensive line coach, introduced the catchphrase "violent intentions" into Sewell's vocabulary and into his mindset.
"Once he introduced that phrase, it kind of stuck with me," Sewell said during his pro day media session on Monday. "Like, it never left. And that kind of carried out through my whole 2019 season, once I heard that. … Coming off in between those lines, I turn it on and I turn on that violent intentions every time, whether it's pass or run block."
Cutting a leaner profile in 2019 at 325 pounds, Sewell was able to demonstrate a unique combination of physicality and domineering mentality as one of the most impressive offensive line prospects in years.
On run plays, Sewell was like a boulder on a downward slope. Running backs could follow in his wake for guaranteed yardage, while linebackers or defensive backs unlucky enough to be in his path often found themselves on their backs. He was also extremely agile and quick for a player of his size, able to get downfield in a hurry to the second level or beyond, including on screen passes.
In pass protection, he could more than hold his own in one-on-one scenarios and displayed a combination of strength, agility, awareness and instincts to make him a successful player protecting Justin Herbert's blind side. In his Oregon bio, he is credited with allowing zero sacks, two hit and just seven pressures in 2019.
"I like to play real physical," Sewell said. "I like to use my body type to my advantage and to really get up and under people's chin and to really showcase my mentality, also, to go along with my physicality. That I'm coming off the ball every play with violent intentions and that nothing less is coming from there."
For his sophomore effort, Sewell earned numerous accolades, including being selected as a unanimous All-American and as the Associated Press' Pac-12 Co-Offensive Player of the Year. He also became the first sophomore offensive lineman to win the Outland Trophy, which is given to college football's top lineman.
With all those accolades, Sewell entered 2020 as presumptively the top NFL Draft prospect at his position. However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he opted out of the season to focus on his upcoming transition to pro football.
In that time, Sewell hasn't been idle. He been working with former NFL tackle Sam Baker and longtime offensive line coach Paul Alexander, he said.
"I've learned so many different types of little techniques that come along with this game," Sewell said. "So I've gotten with NFL people, players that played before or coaches that … coached in the league for a long time. So again, with them, soaking up the knowledge that they have for me, it was just something that I really benefited from [during] this time off. So this whole time I've just been working on that, being a sponge and every day, day in and day out, knowing that I opted out and sitting out through this time, the next time that I have an opportunity to step in between those lines, I'm going to make the most of it. And then I'm coming with everything that I have. I'm not coming up short."
Still, perhaps in part because of his time out of the game, Sewell may now be seen by some analysts as no longer the consensus top lineman in the draft, or that the competition is closer than it previously seemed after his 2019 season.
"At the end of the day, that's their own opinion, but for me, again, just go put on the tape," Sewell said. "Everybody, go ahead and watch what I do. Nobody can do what I do in this draft in the offensive tackle rooms. So, I bring something totally different to the table. I think people notice that. … Again, people will say whatever they want to say and all I have to say is put on the tape and watch me work."
NFL analysts, scouts or executives can continue to doubt him. He may say that he doesn't mind, but inside, it might make him a bit angry.
And you wouldn't like him when he's angry.