ALLEN PARK, Mich. – Da'Shawn Hand was cleaning out his locker the day after the season ended, in a conversation with a reporter about his future and what could happen between this year and next, when he was interrupted for a second.
Hand had been describing, in not great detail, his plan for the offseason. How it was important to keep everything going. And Romeo Okwara, Hand’s teammate on the defensive line and one of the breakthrough players on an underperforming Detroit Lions team this season, couldn’t help but offer his own joking opinion.
“It’s over for you, bro,” Okwara said. “It’s over for you. Not getting bigger, stronger, faster.”
To which Hand replied: “That’s what you think. I’m going to come back here squatting a house.”
While it’s unlikely Hand is moving any type of home with his squats no matter how strong he ends up being, there’s no question the rookie is becoming a permanent fixture on the defensive line (possibly with Okwara, too, depending how the Lions handle his restricted free agency).
Hand’s first season with the Lions was a success by basically every individual metric. Off the field he handled interviews with the media with ease and fit into the locker room like a seasoned veteran. On the field, he became a disruptive force early on, somewhat of a surprise for a fourth-round pick.
Although with Hand, the talent was always there. He had been one of the top-rated prospects in his class, regardless of position, coming out of high school. It was the matter of finding it. And in his first NFL season, he did – becoming a mid-round steal for general manager Bob Quinn at a position desperately in need of a talent infusion.
Some of the progress, too, is attributable to an easy college to pro transition with his former position coach. Hand worked with Bo Davis at Alabama during the player's first two years in Tuscaloosa. they arrived here the same year. So the messaging, the understanding, the relationship that often has to be built – all of that was in place.
“It’s kind of, you have a relationship with a guy and it’s like, ‘Hey, you know, you got to do this, you got to do that,’" Davis said. “It’s not like it is somebody you don’t know or hadn’t spent time with. It’s much easier to have that relationship and tell them when they’re doing wrong and when they’re doing right.
“It’s kind of easy.”
Not that the actual transition was easy. It never is. But Hand handled it better than most.
He finished with 27 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles in a season where he graded out as Pro Football Focus’ top rookie interior lineman. He learned how to both eat space and beat defenders. He started to learn the nuances from the veterans around him – including his former Alabama and current Lions teammate A'Shawn Robinson.
Where he learned the most, though, was something that could aid him long-term. How to use his hands to help him get where he wanted to go.
“Yeah, just through camp and the offseason, having to use your hands,” Hand said. “That’s kind of the one thing you really need to get through. Especially with pass-rushing and defeating blocks.”
It’s one of the many places Hand improved throughout the year, and why it’s fair to think he has the potential to be a dominant force on Detroit’s defensive line, especially when paired with Robinson or Damon "Snacks" Harrison, one of the league’s top run defenders.
“I think I just scratched the surface with everything,” Hand said. “And I just can’t wait for next season.”