From routes to run game, Lions' T.J. Hockenson shows growth in game in second season
A couple of weeks back, after the Detroit Lions defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars, offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell issued a challenge to second-year tight end T.J. Hockenson: Start getting better separation.
Already on pace for 54 catches, 630 yards and 10 touchdowns at that point in the season, Hockenson clearly embraced the challenge. In the past two contests, he's been the team's most reliable offensive weapon, turning 16 targets into 12 catches for 124 yards and another score. That tally included a career-high seven grabs in Sunday's loss to the Colts. He now leads the team with 29 on the year.
"I think my routes, in particular, the last few weeks, just coming in and out of releases, getting some separation, especially this last week," Hockenson said when asked what he was doing better. "I'm starting to feel a little more comfortable, getting routes and seeing the coverages and seeing defenses and being able to get open."
Needless to say, Bevell also has been pleased with the way Hockenson has responded.
"I see a guy that's improving each and every day, a guy it's super important to — he really is trying to be on his details, trying to do the things we're asking him to do," Bevell said. "And I think it's starting to show up. I appreciate what he's doing in the run game. He's improving there each and every time we go out. And these last couple weeks in particular, you can see him doing a great job running routes, gaining some great separation and giving us opportunities to get him the ball."
With the recent boost in production, Hockenson is now on pace to catch 66 passes this season, while topping 700 yards. While that's still lagging behind the league's elite players at the position, the Travis Kelces of the world, Hockenson is still on track to more than double his rookie production, starting to justify why he was a top-10 draft pick in 2019.
A lot of teams had eyes on Hockenson coming out of Iowa, including the Minnesota Vikings, who ended up snagging Alabama tight end Irv Smith Jr. in the second round last year.
Ahead of Sunday's matchup with the Vikings, Minnesota coach Mike Zimmer also sees the rapid development Hockenson has been making this season.
"He seems to be a lot more nifty in his route running, understanding leverage of the defenders," Zimmer said. "He's obviously got great speed, size and hands, but I think he's added another element to how he runs his routes — the way he leans, the way he kinda wiggles at the top of the route. So yeah, he does look much better to me as well."
With Pro Bowl receiver Kenny Golladay expected to be sidelined this week, and potentially longer with his hip injury, it's likely Lions continue to lean heavily on Hockenson during this stretch.
"Yeah, I mean I hope I've gained the trust of those guys," Hockenson said. "I hope I've gained the trust of the rest of the team. Like I said, this is a team sport. It's not one individual guy, I think that's the biggest thing I hope y'all get across from this is that all the guys need to be playing the best they can. Yeah, I mean, they're trusting me to do things and they're trusting some other guys to do some things too. I think the biggest thing is just everyone needs to do their job and come out Sunday and perform."