Wednesday, May 29, 2019

How T.J. Hockenson is making a great first impression with Detroit Lions

Dave Birkett, Detroit Free Press Published 12:50 p.m. ET May 29, 2019 | Updated 2:06 p.m. ET May 29, 2019

Chris White was in his final season as running backs coach at Iowa when the Hawkeyes landed an under-the-radar tight end recruit by the name of T.J. Hockenson.
White wasn’t coaching Hockenson at the time, but the Detroit Lions’ current tight ends coach remembers Hockenson making quite the first impression.
About a week into Hockenson’s first training camp, Hawkeyes coaches gathered for a staff meeting to discuss their roster. When Hockenson’s name came up, then-Iowa tight ends coach LeVar Woods dropped a whopper on the room.
“He goes, ‘This kid’s going to be better than George Kittle,’ ” White said. “And everyone went, like, ‘What?’ It’s like, ‘OK. That’s a lofty thing to say.’ ”

T.J. Hockenson. (Photo: Matthew Holst, Getty Images)
Hockenson ended up redshirting that first season to add weight and learn the playbook, but Woods, who played seven seasons in the NFL, including two with the Lions, saw enough in that first week of practice to know the Lions’ newest first-round pick had the potential to be special.
White said Hockenson had a presence about him that was uncommon for a freshman, and a toughness that coaches loved.
“He didn’t back down to anyone,” White said. “We had some guys on that defense like Josey Jewell, who’s playing for the Broncos. He’s tough. He wouldn’t back down from those guys. He just, he had an aura about him kind of like not typical of a freshman.”

T.J. Hockenson NFL commissioner Roger Goodell after being chosen 8th overall by the Detroit Lions on April 25 in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo: Andy Lyons, Getty Images)
It has been a little over a month since the Lions made Hockenson the No. 8 pick of the NFL draft, and the rookie is opening eyes with his new team like he did early in his Iowa days.
He caught two touchdown passes at the Lions’ first open organized team activity workout of the spring last week and has earned praise from coaches and teammates alike.
“He’s doing a good job moving around out there,” Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford said last week. “I think he’d probably be the first guy to tell you he feels like a rookie. Rookies, there’s a lot of action going on out there. They’ve got a new system to learn, new city to learn, new coaches, players, all that. There’s a lot going on. (But) at some point in the year we’re going to need all those guys and I know they know that.”
The Lions, despite making a major investment in their tight end room this offseason that included signing Jesse James and Logan Thomas in free agency and taking Hockenson and Isaac Nauta in the draft, need more from Hockenson than most.
They made him the rare top-10 pick at the tight end position because they believe he can impact games in a multitude of ways.
At Iowa, Hockenson had 73 catches and nine touchdowns in two seasons. He was the team’s top red-zone threat, a difference-maker as a run blocker, and someone whose versatility allowed the Hawkeyes to create mismatches with their personnel groupings.
The Lions have plans to use Hockenson in similar ways.
“He’s learning, and the thing about him, he’s smart,” White said. “He’s really smart and he’s got a work ethic. We’re trying to obviously have him do one spot right now, but I think by the end of training camp I wouldn’t be surprised if we could move around a lot in different spots.”
While tight end is typically a tough position to contribute at as a rookie, Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Hockenson could be a mold-breaker because of his work ethic and intelligence.
“From what I’ve seen on tape from his college days, I think T.J.’s going to be able to pick it up,” Bevell said. “He’s done a nice job of really applying himself in the classroom so far, picking things up out there on the field, and he’s got the skill set to do a lot of different things. But we need to develop it and bring it out so that he has a chance to be successful, not overload him.”
White said neither he nor Bevell knew the Lions were going to take Hockenson in Round 1 on draft day April 25, and when the pick was made they celebrated with raised fists and "we-got-our-guy" relief.
“I can’t tell you how fired up I was,” White said. “And it was more because I know the kid and what type of kid he is. He’s got a high ceiling.”
One White has been aware of for years.
Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett. Read more on the Detroit Lions and sign up for our Lions newsletter.

Popular Posts