Allen Park — At some point in every football player’s career, they’re going to have to deal with the injury bug. But for the past three seasons, it’s felt as if Detroit Lions defensive lineman Da’Shawn Hand has been battling an infestation.
The once-promising rookie has seen his early momentum derailed by various strains and sprains. Since earning All-Rookie honors from the Pro Football Writers of America in 2018, Hand has ended each of his first three seasons on injured reserve. In total, he’s missed 22 of Detroit’s past 35 games with knee, elbow, groin and ankle issues.
Injured players have a way of fading into the background. While they aren’t able to contribute on the field, they’re out of sight and out of mind. It didn’t help that during the limited times Da’Shawn Hand did talk during his tribulations, he had less and less to say. The frustration was palpable.
“I’m upset with myself,” Hand said on Monday, reflecting on the past couple years. “It’s frustrating because, as a player, you want to be great consistently. You don’t ever want to go into a game and get no tackles, no production. Like, I shouldn’t be in this profession if I was thinking like that.”
That moment of honest self-reflection wasn’t part of what little Hand has been willing to share publicly the past two years. Neither was the smile, laughter and easy-going attitude that dominated the rest of his media session.
Hand is in a good place, mentally and physically. And although his first season might feel like a distant memory as he enters the final year of his rookie contract with the Lions, he’s amped up to prove he’s still that guy, maybe even a better version of him.
“I think this year, I’m just clear-headed,” Hand said. “I’m not thinking about anything. I’m not thinking about the past. I’m actually reading a new book called ‘Mindfulness’ and it’s teaching me to just stay in the moment. So I’m just stacking days and enjoying the process, and like I said, I just want to ball.”
First of all, Hand is in phenomenal shape.
Unlike many of his defensive mates who lost weight this season, Hand packed it on. With the help of his personal chef in Houston, he reversed his weight loss from last season, which saw him dip to 270 pounds. He’s currently back up to 293, but he carries the added muscle in the way Ndamukong Suh used to when he played for the Lions — a thick, powerful frame devoid of any unnecessary fat.
“You see it,” Hand said, flashing a big smile. “Don’t make me take my shirt off in an interview.”
The added bulk is part of Hand’s response to the Lions challenge to be a better run-stopper, to complement his already known pass-rushing abilities.
“We know he can rush the passer when he’s healthy and stuff, so this offseason we really challenged him on getting in there, having the grit to play a four-technique, play a three-technique versus double (team)s and all that good stuff,” defensive line coach Todd Wash said. “He’s really showing us that he’s willing to do it. Like I said, we just challenged him and this is going to be a big year for Hand, man. If he comes out and plays well, good things are gonna happen, not only for him but for us as a football team. So we’re challenging him. We’re going to put a lot of pressure on him because he’s a talented football player.”
Wash went on to praise Hand’s athleticism, explosion and flexibility.
Improving the latter has been another big part of Hand’s offseason, with a focus of reducing the injury issues that have plagued him the past few years. He’s enhanced his stretching technique, invested more time into his core strength and ramped up how much yoga he’s been doing.
Will it be enough to finally stay on the field for a full season? There’s no real way to predict that, but whenever he’s on the field, the Lions are expecting an impact performance from a guy with a sizeable chip on the shoulder.
“You’ve got to think, when you work so hard to try to stay healthy and things just don’t go your way, you just gotta get back up,” Hand said. “I’ve been blessed to keep having opportunities to come back. They believe in me. I’ve been doing things the right way, so things have paid off and that’s why I’m still here. I just want my talents to show. I want to stay healthy and I want to show y’all I can really do this. I can be a bonafied player in this league.”