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Rookie John Penisini working to make an impression

As the 197th overall draft pick (sixth round) by the Detroit Lions this offseason, defensive tackle John Penisini knows that a roster spot and a role on defense won't be handed to him.

He actually put it best in a Zoom call with reporters Tuesday, saying rookies have to catch up fast or be left behind.

With roster cuts looming, Penisini has just a few more opportunities to impress Lions coaches enough to earn inclusion on the initial 53-man roster.

Looking at Detroit's defensive line group: Trey Flowers, Danny Shelton, Da’Shawn Hand, Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara and Nick Williams all appear to be locks to make the first cuts. Kevin Strong played a significant reserve role a year ago, and has had a good camp. That leaves Penisini, Frank Herron, Kevin Wilkins and Will Clarke, along with Strong, fighting for inclusion in what might be just one or two more roster spots.

A star at Utah the last two seasons, Penisini said the first thing he learned about life in the NFL was that technique in key. He said he got away at times in college playing his own way, relying on his strength and athleticism to bully opposing offensive linemen.

Well, there's no bullying Lions veteran center Frank Ragnow. The only way you beat Ragnow is having better technique, and that still might not get the job done. But those are the things rookies like Penisini deal with every day in training camp as they try to show they belong and can help.

"It's mind blowing how if you don't play this right then this will happen," Penisini said. "It's a crazy jump (from college to NFL). If you mess up on something small technical then you'll see the outcome."

Penisini was a two time second-team All-Pac-12 performer with back-to-back 38-tackle, seven-tackle for loss and two-sack seasons for the Utes in 2018 and 2019. He's a run-stuffing, two-gap interior defender trying to earn a spot as a backup.

That's no easy task after being forced into a virtual offseason that cost him hundreds of reps, and no preseason games. Late-round picks and undrafted rookie free agents have it tough this year trying to find enough opportunities to impress decision makers.

Penisini has a few more days to try and find a way to stand out and earn a backup role along the defensive line.

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