I know football is a physical sport, but when it’s your first time at OTAs, and you’re trying to make an impression that will keep you on an NFL roster for years to come, getting in fights with your teammates doesn’t seem like the best course of action.
One fight? Okay, maybe it was just a miscommunication or a misunderstanding of the team’s practice culture. Two fights? Now, you’re getting into dicey territory. Three fights? Now you’ve got a reputation and you’re asking to get reprimanded by your team. That’s exactly what Saints’ first-round rookie tackle Trevor Penning did though. Even worse, Penning got into these fights on three consecutive days. It was becoming a Saints’ tradition: stretch, calisthenics, positional drills, line up for scrimmage, fight penning. Saints’ head coach Dennis Allen probably penciled it into the team’s practice schedule that morning.
Penning is known for being an aggressive guy in the trenches. He’s even publicly stated that his favorite part of football is “assaulting the person across from you.”
Surprisingly, a lot of people came to Penning’s defense in the comment section of the tweet I referenced. Several people were claiming that Penning was just “playing through the whistle” or “playing hard.” Others claimed that Penning didn’t start some of the fights.
In the video, we can see punches being thrown in Penning’s direction before Penning makes any non-football-related move toward the other player. To those defenses, I ask “Would it still be ‘playing hard’ if one of Penning’s teammates ended up getting injured?” and “Clearly, Penning has a reputation so I doubt this is the first kerfuffle he’s found himself in. If the opposing player believes Penning could start fighting them at any moment, I’d throw a punch too to try to end it before it starts.” There’s a difference between playing hard and playing to hurt someone. The Saints know the difference all too well. Penning doesn’t toe the line. For years, he’s lept to the wrong side, likely only getting away with it because he was too talented to be reprimanded in college.
Penning has had this issue with aggressiveness for a while. Even at the Senior Bowl, Penning, who played for Northern Iowa, was seen constantly going a little too hard after some of his opponents.
You can tell by the reactions of the people Penning was going against that Penning’s so-called “aggression” wasn’t normal. You could make the argument that all these guys were just upset that Penning beat them, but with so many players getting upset, you have to look at the common denominator. When several of a man’s ex-girlfriends talk shit about him, that probably means he was the problem and vice versa.
These aggressive tendencies aren’t an indication of greatness in the NFL either. More often than not, they just bring unwanted attention and/or trouble. Penning will replace Terron Armstead as the Saints’ starting right tackle in the upcoming season. Armstead was, and still is, one of the best left tackles in the game. He earned three consecutive Pro Bowl nods from 2018 to 2020. Was Armstead ever an issue at Saints’ practice? No. Is David Bakhtiari a problem at Packers’ practice? Sure, Trent Williams had that whole holdout situation with the Commanders and once punched Richard Sherman in the face, but at least those two didn’t have to share the same locker room. Quenton Nelson? Corey Linsey? Creed Humphrey? Joel Bitonio? Ryan Ramczyk? Joe Thuney? Orlando Brown Jr? Ronny Stanley? Have any of them had a history of violence against teammates? No, yet they’re all considered some of the best offensive linemen in the NFL today. Shocking, I know. How were they able to become great without starting any fights at practice? It’s an unsolvable mystery that science may never be able to answer.
While any NFL team would prefer to have an offensive lineman who needs to tone things down rather than elevate his physicality, teams are also very appreciative of a guy who knows when to turn that aggressiveness off and how to be a good teammate who doesn’t risk hurting other players. When even the team’s head coach says “we don’t have time for [Penning’s actions],” you know there’s something wrong.
There have been a multitude of great NFL players who struggled with attitude adjustments early in their NFL careers. Vernon Davis is the first person that comes to mind. He needed Mike Singletary to lay into him before he was ready to erupt into the stratosphere of the NFL’s tight end elites. There are other examples too, but more often than not, when said player’s attitude isn’t checked, they can never fully commit to their team and they become a detriment rather than an asset. So, yes, the Saints should be worried by Penning’s antics. They spent a first-round pick on him and expect him to be a vital part of the team’s offensive line moving forward. He better damn well get his head straight.