Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson 'fighting back' after rookie season cut short by injury

Justin Rogers
The Detroit News

Indianapolis — While the Detroit Lions are spending this week at the scouting combine getting a better feel for the batch of candidates that will eventually make up most, if not all of the team's 2020 rookie class, the team's 2019 first-round pick, tight end T.J. Hockenson, has been mentioned a few times in recent days. 

Iowa offensive lineman Tristan Wirfs, a projected first-round pick in the upcoming draft, noted that Hockenson has been back on campus preparing for his second season with the Lions. 

T.J. Hockenson

"T.J. is back in Iowa City training," Wirfs said. "He just said he's here if I have any questions, but it's nice to just seeing him again because I played next to him last year, and it's fun having him around."

Hockenson's rookie year was ended early due to a severe ankle injury he suffered in the team's Thanksgiving game against Chicago. He finished the season having caught 32 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns in 12 games. 

"I think we have a really good tight end that had a really strong rookie season," Lions general manager Bob Quinn said. "He’s fighting back, so we’re extremely happy to have him on our team and expect big things going forward."

Hockenson's approach to the game drew praise outside of the spheres of Iowa and Detroit. Dayton tight end prospect Adam Trautman, a small-school standout who is projected as a Day 2 pick after a strong senior season and eye-catching showing at the Senior Bowl, referenced Hockenson as a player he's modeled his game after. 

"I do a lot of studying of other players, and just find guys I want to be like and I think I can be at the next level," Trautman said. "George Kittle and T.J. Hockenson, I've studied a lot of film on them.

"Those two, in particular, it's just how hard they play," Trautman said. "That's something I've always prided myself on, especially being from a school like Dayton. You can go out there and sit down at practice, a guy like me, and I could still go out there and play every game, start every game and catch 10 passes. That's not how I'm wired. That's what I follow every day, getting better, and you can see that in how they play and go after people, especially in the run game. And they're dynamic players in the pass game, as well."

Kittle, arguably the NFL's best player at the position, preceded Hockenson at Iowa, serving as a mentor to the younger tight end. 

Hockenson, the No. 8 choice in last year's draft, exploded onto the scene for the Lions, catching six passes for 131 yards and score in his debut. But he didn't have anywhere close to that kind of impact his final 11 games, topping 50 receiving yards just once during that stretch. 

That's part of the maturation process of a young player, according to coach Matt Patricia. 

"Obviously, coming out of the Arizona (in Week 1), there wasn’t a lot to hide at that point," Patricia said. "What we had to do was get him informed of different looks he might see and kind of really improve his overall knowledge of how the tight end position can be defended against to try to get him caught up to speed.

"I think he works hard, he plays hard, obviously plays aggressive," Patricia said. "All the things you love about him is what you see every day. It’ll be a bigger challenge coming up this year and certainly he’s got his work cut out for him from that aspect of it, so we’ll do everything we can to try to address it from there."

Twitter: @Justin_Rogers