Starting Week 4 and lasting through the end of the 2020 season, Detroit Lions rookie defensive tackle John Penisini couldn't lift either arm above his shoulders. He developed severe calcium deposits in each shoulder that limited the use and movement of both arms. It required surgery in the offseason.
What's significant about Penisini's physical limitations last season was that he still played pretty well as a rookie while dealing with it. He played in all 16 games (12 starts) and recorded 35 tackles from the interior with four tackles for loss, a sack and a fumble recovery. He was one of the young bright spots on defense last year for the Lions.
Penisini admitted Friday it was hard playing through the shoulder discomfort and movement limitations last season. He couldn't do any upper-body weight training the second half of the season.
But he's back healthy heading into his second season, and that's good news for a Lions defensive line looking to get more production from the interior with a number of new additions inside.
"I know that we've been pleased with Penisini when he came back into camp," Lions head coach Dan Campbell said Friday. "His weight, where he is in shape, passing the conditioning test.
"Penisini had what looked like softballs in his shoulder that he had repaired after the season after the fact. It just looked like a bunch of calcium deposits that had been in there. You wonder why when you watch the film last year why he's not using his arm. It's because he had issues. It's a credit to him playing through it and all of those things. He's better and you could see it yesterday. It was impressive. I'm pleased with Penisini."
Penisini hopes to play a big role in the interior rotation along with Michael Brockers and rookies Alim McNeill and Levi Onwuzurike. Veterans Da'Shawn Hand and Nick Williams are battling for roles as well.
Penisini and McNeill are expected to primarily play nose tackle. Campbell views Penisini as more of a first and second-down nose who plays on the goal line and in short yardage and base. He feels pretty good about Penisini in that role. McNeill could provide more pass rush from the nose with his elite combination of size and quickness.
Penisini wants to prove he can also give the team some pass rush from the interior now that he is healthy, but right now he's just happy to be pain-free and unhindered as he tries to take that big leap we often see players make from their first to second seasons.
"I'm locked in," Penisini said. "It's better."