Training camp is right around the corner. The Detroit Lions will be back to work in just over a week. Since the Lions are in the midst of a rebuild, some of the players that we’ve gotten to know over the past few years may not be safe under the new regime. With that in mind, I want to talk about one player whose safety should definitely be a concern to him going into the 2021 season. That player is Da’Shawn Hand.
The Lions drafted Hand in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft. At the time, it felt like a steal. Hand had just helped Alabama win the National Championship and he was a member of the All-SEC second team.
Hand showed up right away for the Lions. He had a productive rookie year with 27 tackles and three sacks. It was all good enough for the defensive end to post a damn-near elite 85.2 grade on Pro Football Focus. PFF also named Hand to their All-Rookie team that year. It all went downhill from there. What happened?
For starters, Hand only played three games in 2019. He dealt with a serious elbow injury and two different ankle sprains. In the limited time he did see, 110 snaps, he posted a career-worst 51.4 PFF grade.
In 2020, he came back at full strength and started the season off great against the Bears in Week 1. He had a grade of 77.9 in that game and only reached those heights again against the Falcons later in the season. Outside of those two games, Hand didn’t record a single sack and only one tackle for loss. He also had just 12 solo tackles.
Then there were more injury issues. Hand missed three games in November when he was dealing with a groin injury and was placed on IR with another ankle injury after Week 13. In total, he only play 10 games in 2020. Even when he was healthy, Hand started just one game.
So what now? Hand might have an uphill battle ahead of him. The Lions have brought in Michael Brockers and they’ll have a healthy Trey Flowers and of course they brought back Romeo Okwara. These guys are likely to take on the brunt of the work along the Lions defensive line in 2021. The team also has John Penisini, Julian Okwara and the two rookies Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeil. Where does Da’Shawn Hand fit in?
At this point it’s not hard to believe that Hand could very well be a casualty during training camp. If he does make it through, where is he going to get his snaps if he doesn’t show out and prove he’s better than at least half of these guys? On top of all that, Hand is set to become a free agent in 2021. So his back is up against the wall at this point.
How can Hand overcome all this? Well, it’s simple. Be better. One way he could be better is being away from the defensive genius Matt Patricia. From what we all know, Patricia ‘s coaching style really put a damper on the Lions defense, specially after he chased all the good players away. What I’m getting at here is maybe Hand could just simply benefit from better or different coaching.
Lions head coach Dan Campbell alluded to this type of thing when he spoke to 97.1 The Ticket about watching Detroit’s defense last year while scouting for the New Orleans Saints. He noticed that the team didn’t seem to know what they were doing out there.
“Let me say this: It almost looked like they were trying to figure out, ‘What world are we in right now? Are we trying to play this four-down, up the field? Are we trying to two-gap? Am I trying to set an edge? Am I squeezing? Where’s the safety fitting?’ I just felt like it was a little disheveled. That’s all,’ Campbell said.
Perhaps Campbell and company feel this way about Hand. Maybe the right coaching can turn him around. Maybe the new staff can recapture some of the pass rushing magic we saw in Hand’s rookie season. New Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash could really help out here, too. He was the mastermind behind the “Sacksonville” Jaguars back in 2017.
It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen with this team right now. It’s even harder to tell what’s going to happen with Hand. Right now it doesn’t look good.