As a wide-eyed rookie last season, defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand had the advantage of working alongside an unselfish veteran player like Ricky Jean Francois, who took time after practice to work with Hand and give him extra technique work almost on a daily basis.
Fast forward a year, and Hand is heading into his second season after a very solid rookie campaign. He has a pretty good handle on what this league is about and the kind of work it takes to be successful. He also has a much better grasp on the schemes and techniques being taught here.
Hand was the last player to step off the practice field after Tuesday’s first mandatory minicamp because he was working after practice with rookie defensive tackles Ray Smith and Kevin Strong, doing the same thing Jean Francois took the time to do for him last year when he was a rookie.
It was the same thing Wednesday, as rookie P.J. Johnson joined the group of players getting some extra instruction on hand placement and technique from Hand after practice.
“Hey, whoever needs help, I’m here,” Hand said after Wednesday’s practice. “Everybody just wants to work hard. It’s a great thing when you can combine and try to reach a goal together.”
Lions head coach Matt Patricia said those sessions after practice between the players are critical to the overall development of the young players.
“The rules that we work with and the time restraints and all that stuff, when that time hits, we (coaches) are off the field. Coaches, like I tell them all, ‘we’re done,’” Patricia said. “Nothing wrong with a player grabbing another player and getting better.
“That just shows you the unselfishness of those guys that just want the team to be as good as it can be and they’re not worried about anything other than trying to improve everyone and get better. Certainly a pay-it-forward situation, right? Someone did that for you, you should do it for someone else.”
Hand was Pro Football Focus’ top graded rookie interior lineman last season, and is likely to play a big role upfront for the Lions in his second season.
He had 27 tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles as part of a defensive line group that finished 10th among NFL teams in overall grading by Pro Football Focus.
Hand says his focus right now is on improving his craft and continuing to evolve as a player in this scheme. He hopes that allows him to reach some of the goals he’s set out for himself.
If some of the young players want to jump on board and come along for the ride, Hand has shown that he’s more than willing to help and try to get them to where he’s trying to be as a player.