Tuesday, August 03, 2021

T.J. Hockenson shining bright for Detroit Lions offense


Detroit Lions training camp – July 31, 2021

By Kyle Meinke |


ALLEN PARK -- You might not know Shaun Dion Hamilton’s name, but the man went step-for-step with T.J. Hockenson during a particularly impressive red-zone rep on Saturday.

Hamilton is a linebacker just trying to fight his way onto the roster bubble. Hockenson is a Pro Bowl tight end. So, yeah. Running in that guy’s hip pocket all the way to the pylon -- and getting his hand on the football while he was at it -- is pretty impressive.

And it still didn’t matter.

Hockenson ran a corner route, stayed with the play, and somehow managed to catch the ball off the carom while dragging his tippiest of tippy toes for a touchdown that was perhaps the most impressive play of camp so far.

“That’s fun in training camp,” Hockenson said after practice. “Just things like that are fun. Being able to make plays. You get opportunities throughout training camp, and when the ball’s in the air, it’s yours. That’s your mindset all the time. That’s always fun.”

By all appearances, Hockenson is having a lot of fun in camp. The offense has labored through some early struggles while they install a new system with a new quarterback and all new receivers. Things haven’t quite come together yet, especially down the field and in the red zone. But Hockenson continues to stand out during a terrific start to camp.

The former top-10 pick is coming off a fabulous sophomore season where he racked up 67 catches for 723 yards, more than any other tight end in the NFC, and made his first Pro Bowl. Not a bad Year 2 at all, especially when you consider the chaos and dysfunction that unfolded all around him. But he knows there’s still a lot of meat left on the bone, and put a plan together an offseason plan to be even better in Year 3.

He worked out in Nashville with other top tight ends like George Kittle. He also attended “Tight End University,” a gathering of some of the best players in the league at that position. Hockenson took home the belt at that summit as the heavyweight champ.

“There’s always ways to get better,” he said. “I want to be a lot better than I was last season. I think that’s every player’s goal, though. Looking at the film from last season, it’s kind of one of those things, yeah I had a Pro Bowl, but it’s not near where I could be or where I want to be. Blocking-wise, route-wise, there are some things I tried to clean up throughout the offseason and that’s showing up out here. We’re just cleaning up and trying to get ready for a good year this year.

“As a player, just being able to see how you move on the field, how you do different things, it’s fun to see the growth and just go back a year and be like, ‘Man, what was I doing?’ or ‘Man, what was this?’ Next year, I’ll probably do the same thing for this year. It’s exciting. It’s one of those things that you look forward to.”

So far, the results are obvious. Hockenson was the best offensive skill player on the field during the first four days of camp, exploding out his breaks to create separation against mismatched defenders and showing off his reliable hands when the ball did arrive.

The Lions are going to need Hockenson to have a big season too, considering all the talent they’ve lost in the passing game. Matthew Stafford was traded to the Los Angeles Rams, before Detroit parted in free agency with six of the seven receivers that caught passes for the club last season. Tyrell Williams, Breshad Perriman, Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond were among the notable receivers brought in to replace them, but have struggled to make plays consistently for the offense so far.

So new quarterback Jared Goff has turned frequently to Hockenson, and the big tight end continues to produce.

“I have seen that,” head coach Dan Campbell said. “I think that’s one thing that JG has not really had is a good receiving tight end that he can kind of let go to work and trust that, ‘All right, if the matchup’s there, I can go to this guy.’ I think Tyler Higbee at the Los Angeles Rams is a damn good tight end, believe me, that’s not what I’m saying, but Tyler’s job description is a little different than Hock. Hock’s got to be able to block, but I think Hockenson can be a real mismatch in the pass game. That’s really where I think he can excel, and you can feel Jared wants to go to him now. He sees it. So, I do see that rapport.”

Some more observations from Day 4 of camp:

-- Fans were allowed through the gates of Allen Park for the first time since 2019, and, man, could you feel the difference. Campbell kicked things off by addressing the crowd, his voice cracking as he talked about how everyone was counting out the team. The crowd loved it, and continued to show approval during some big plays, including Hockenson’s magnificent touchdown that occurred right in front of the far bank of fans.

Allen Park crowds haven’t exactly been known for providing a lot of energy over the years, but they showed up today.

“Everybody wants to count us out — we’re not good enough, we’re a bunch of losers,” Campbell told the crowd right before practice started. “And that’s OK. We’ll keep doing our work. Then they’ll show up and we’ll see what happens.”

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