Lions' T.J. Hockenson bounces back from broken leg to earn Pro Bowl nod
A little more than a year after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury, Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson revealed previously unknown information about the severity.
Hockenson missed the final four games of his rookie season with what was labeled an ankle injury. Twisted down near the sideline by Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith, he remained on the ground and immediately clutched his lower leg.
The injury required surgery, a mobility scooter and a lengthy rehab. It turns out that's because Hockenson actually broke his leg, along with tearing multiple tendons in his ankle.
In training camp, Hockenson acknowledged his ankle still didn't feel back to normal, but that didn't stop him from appearing in every game this year and earning Pro Bowl honors in his second full season.
"It was definitely a tough situation," Hockenson said Tuesday. "Just being able to rehab from that, and having some great physical therapists that helped me along the way, you know, and coming back from that and then being able to go down and still have an offseason, it truly means a lot to (me) all the people that voted."
Hockenson finished first in the NFC and third overall among tight ends in fan voting, behind only Travis Kelce and Darren Waller. That netted Hockenson congratulations from friend and mentor George Kittle, who was a Pro Bowler the past two years for San Francisco but has been limited to six games due to injury in 2020.
"George is one of the best guys I've been around," Hockenson said. "Just a tremendously good friend, and playing with him at Iowa was such a fun thing. Yeah, I mean, just being able to get that text from him, a guy that you look up to and has helped you out throughout your entire career, is a cool feeling. So, yeah, he reached out. It's a special thing for sure."
Hockenson also got the nod ahead of Rob Gronkowski, a five-time Pro Bowler who has shrugged off a slow start in his return from retirement. He has 41 catches for 536 yards and five scores in his first season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Lions host Tampa Bay and Gronkowski on Saturday.
"I mean, he was a guy back in college that I watched," Hockenson said. "Brian Ferentz was my coach at Iowa — my tight ends coach and obviously offensive coordinator — and he actually got the chance to coach Gronkowski in New England early in his career. So we watched a lot of clips of him, watched what he was able to do as a tight end. Brian, he told me many stories of Gronk and just how he worked and how he loves the game, just the kid in him and how much fun that is to be around.
"I think that's something that I try to have fun playing this game, because it really is a kid's game. And that's something that hearing from Brian that Gronk did, and watching what he's able to do on film and just having fun, and the way he uses his body and all those catches he had, it's something that I've tried to translate into my game and just use my body in different situations. ...It's going to be fun to try to talk to him."