New Lions assistant coach Todd Wash breaks down his defensive line

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News
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In the NFL, you grow accustomed to secrecy and vague answers, all the name of competitive advantage. So when a coach offers any kind of schematic specifics, it's refreshing. 

In his first interview session with local media, new Detroit Lions defensive line coach Todd Wash easily could have fallen back on cliché responses about needing to see the players on the field before making any declarative statements about roles, but he didn't, instead offering some insight on how he viewed both veteran holdovers and the team's two draft picks up front. 

Injuries have forced defensive lineman Da'Shawn Hand to miss 22 games in three seasons.

With Trey Flowers, Wash said the veteran edge rusher will be used as an outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 base package, while shifting inside and putting his hand in the dirt as a defensive end in sub packages on obvious passing downs. 

"He's got a great skill-set for what we're trying to do," Wash said. 

The assistant coach also sees Romeo Okwara being used similarly. 

"With outside linebackers, we look for three different characteristics," Wash said. "Obviously you got to be able to rush the passer. We're looking for somebody to set the edge — the rest of us will build a wall to stop the run and knock them back. And then the third is they need to be serviceable in coverage. That's what we're looking for when it comes to outside linebackers. Both of them are athletic (enough) to do what we need to ask them to do, and I think you're going to see both of them elevate their game." 

One player who has seemingly gotten lost in the shuffle this offseason, particularly following key offseason additions in free agency and the draft, is Da'Shawn Hand. The former fourth-round draft pick has struggled to stay on the field, missing 22 games his first three seasons.

That alone could be enough to put him on the roster bubble, but Wash is excited for the opportunity to get Hand's career back on track. 

"When I came in, he was a young man that we had a lot of conversations about," Wash said. "When I flipped on the tape, and when he's healthy, he's something. I think he's something teams are going to have to deal with. That's my job, is to get him to be able to stay healthy, get him prepared physically and athletically. He has a chance to be a special player in this league, we just got to keep him healthy. And we're going to do everything we can to get him on the field as much as we can." 

As for the two rookies the Lions are adding to the mix, Levi Onwuzurike and Alim McNeill, Wash shared his early vision for them, as well. 

"Obviously very excited about all the guys in our room, and the two newcomers, it was like Christmas on draft day for me," Wash said. "You know, so obviously Mac, Alim, he's going to end up playing nose guard. And Levi will play defensive end and in our sub and dime packages, he'll move inside.

"Both of them, Mac — we call Alim 'Mac' — is a young man who is very athletic for his size at 327 (pounds)," Wash continued. "I really like Levi's length and ability to set the edge, build a wall on the inside. So I think both of them are really good run defenders, and we've got to continue, and I have to continue to develop this pass rush when they get that opportunity."

As with most defensive line coaches, Wash is putting a premium on stopping the run because he understands that is often the key to unlocking an effective pass rush the Lions have sorely lacked the past few seasons. 

"The biggest thing is every defensive linemen wants to rush the passer," Wash said. "That's where they all pin their ears back and they go. But one of the biggest things we're talking about is we got to earn the right to rush up front. We're going to be able to stop the run with our front seven, and to do that, obviously we got to be able to play square on the line of scrimmage, we got to take on blocks, not run around people.

"That's the biggest thing we talk about up front, is we're going to be physical and we're going to stop the run. And then, obviously, when the quarterback starts to drop back, we need to be able to get after the quarterback. But it all starts with earning the right to rush and stopping the run up front."

jdrogers@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers

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