'Have fun with it': Lions' T.J. Hockenson looking forward despite lingering ankle concerns
T.J. Hockenson's rookie season was derailed by an ankle injury, one that sidelined him the final four games and required surgery. The injury unfortunately lingered into the offseason and is still not completely in the rear-view mirror, the Detroit Lions tight end acknowledged in a video conference with reporters after Monday's practice.
"Yeah, I'm out there running around, I'm doing everything I was able to do last year, just trying to improve on it," Hockenson said. "The ankle is still there, I still notice it, but I'm getting there.
"I think that's one of the things I'm trying to keep using," Hockenson continued. "Sometimes guys, after an injury, come back and baby that. That's not something I want to do. That's not something I even want to play attention to. That's what I'm getting toward and kind of where I'm at at this point."
Rehabbing the ankle altered Hockenson's offseason plan, but he still found ways to improve, most notably his physique, where it appears he's packed on significant muscle to his upper body.
"Yeah, the ankle was kind of challenge throughout the offseason, cut it a little short, but I really worked back," Hockenson said. "I was able to do something upper body-wise while I was rehabbing from that. ... I dropped some weight and built it back up. This offseason was really good for me, not only physically, but mentally, trying to get into the game, understand defenses, understand out offense and try to figure some things out."
The Lions will be looking for Hockenson to take a significant step in his second season after selecting him with the No. 8 pick in the draft a year ago.
As a rookie, Hockenson had a jaw-dropping debut, hauling in six passes for 131 yards and a touchdown in the season-opener against Arizona. By like so many rookies, he struggled to find a way to consistently impact games. Over his final 11 contests, Hockenson mustered just 26 receptions for 236 yards and one additional touchdown.
"Last year, the first game, we came out and we had a lot of fun," he said. "I think we got away from it for a little bit. I got away from some things, individually, some fundamental things I could fix this year. It was one of those things. We're learning from it and we're going to come back and try to push forward."
This offseason, Hockenson spent some time working out with George Kittle, a 2019 All-Pro and arguably the NFL's best tight end. Kittle served as a mentor for Hockenson at the University of Iowa, turning pro two years earlier.
And Kittle is still providing valuable lessons for his former teammate.
"George is one of the best dudes you'll ever be around," Hockenson said. "He has a persona about him. Everything is fun. That was my biggest takeaway hanging out with him was just have fun with it. We're playing a child's game and you sometimes take it for granted and take it too serious, but you've got have fun and complete."
Kittle is probably having more fun than most after signing a five-year, $75 million extension with the 49ers this offseason.
"Yeah, that's incredible," Hockenson said. "He works his tail off in the offseason, during the season and he deserved that. I texted him congratulations. He sent me a little emoji with the money bags, so it was kind of funny. He's just a good guy. He really deserved that and paved the way for us younger tight ends."