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The Undrafted Free Agent Making an Immediate Impression

Special Teams Coordinator – Assistant Head Coach George Stewart had a story to tell this week at the podium.

It's one Chargers fans know quite well from a year ago in last year's undrafted gem, Austin Ekeler.

However, he wanted people to know Ekeler first made waves during last year's offseason program with his hustle on special teams.

"All you guys know, Austin came in as an undrafted free agent," Stewart began.  "Early on, he was a scout team guy for us.  Just ran down and gave us great looks. We kept watching this guy, and Coach (Anthony) Lynn (said), 'Hey Coach Stewart, this guy is always showing up. Let's give him an opportunity.' He made an opportunity and made an impression.  Some of these guys are making an impression as well.  We're always looking for talent."

That's happening all over again as Stewart explained how several undrafted guys have stood out on special teams over the past month.

Pressed to reveal who specifically has turned heads, he offered up one name in particular.

"There is a handful of young guys that we're looking at in terms of undrafted guys. I can just give you one, and I guess it's unfair to the rest of them, but a young man named D'Juan Hines, a linebacker from University of Houston. He's done an outstanding job."

So, who exactly is D'Juan Hines?

He's a 6-1, 230-pound linebacker out of Houston who led the Cougars and ranked third in the conference with 110 tackles.  He also forced three fumbles while adding 6.5 tackles for loss, earning first-team All-American Athletic Conference honors along the way.

Hines has had to fight for everything he's gotten, which is why he isn't letting Stewart's praise get to his head.  However, it is a sign he's doing things the right way.

"It's nice to know, and means a lot," he said. "This is the NFL level, and if a coach says something big about you, that's a big thing. That means you're taking a positive step and you're getting better. But it doesn't change my motivation. I was already motivated. But it just lets me know that what I'm doing is the right thing, and (to) just keep doing it."

Hines knew he'd go undrafted as he only had one year of starting experience under his belt after being buried on the depth chart his first three seasons behind four other linebackers who were eventually drafted.

"I knew my situation coming in," he said. "I'm not going to say I was shocked not getting drafted. I was (disappointed) because I'm a competitor, so of course I wanted to be drafted. But I knew the situation. I was only a one-year starter. But I'm here. It doesn't matter how you got here, all that matters is what you do when you get here."

However, Hines was in demand once the seventh-round came to an end as nine teams offered him a contract.

"After I didn't get drafted, I felt like I was on a recruiting trip to college," he explained. "And I felt like the Chargers were steady with me the entire time. They stuck with me through the process and talked to me before the draft. I knew they were interested and liked me."

At the same time, he's cognizant of the fact that making an impact on special teams is his safest ticket to earning a spot on the eventual 53-man roster.

"That's hammered in my head every day when I see Coach Stewart. I know that's my way onto the team, and on the field. So that's what I'm doing. It's the same (skills) needed as linebacker. It's see ball, eat ball. Do whatever you've got to do. It's the same mindset."

Still, you shouldn't forget about Hines' prowess at linebacker.

While starring on special teams may be his clearest path to the field, he's also determined to showcase his skills on the defensive side of the ball.

"I'm getting better every day, and I think it's going well so far," he said. "There are bumps in the road, but that's expected. I think the (transition) has been good. I feel like I'm a tackling machine. I'm smart, I'm quick. I'm fast. I'm going to give you everything I've got every play no matter what. I'm always going to be around the ball. You're going to get a hard-working guy."

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