Lions notes: Detroit looks to get 'creative' in getting ball to T.J. Hockenson
Allen Park — Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson remains on pace to catch more than 100 passes this season, but for the first time in three games, he was held in check by an opposing defense when the Baltimore Ravens limited him to two receptions for 10 yards.
As Detroit's top option in the passing game, it was only a matter of time before an opponent would concentrate their game plan on limiting Hockenson's production. The Ravens did this by effectively deploying a variety of double-coverage looks.
And the reasonable expectation is that will continue, at least until the Lions show they can consistently move the ball through the air with their other weapons. Still, coach Dan Campbell knows he and his staff have to proactively find more ways to get Hockenson involved.
"We’ve got to be more creative in the way that we try to get him the ball," Campbell said. "We’re going to have to move him a little bit more and shift him and try to hide him if we can, or at least give him some access. And then, even after all of that, if they are still willing to do that, the second read has got to be somebody we think can win. He’s got to be able to win for us."
Despite Hockenson's suppressed pass-catching numbers Sunday, position coach Ben Johnson was pleased with Hockenson's performance, praising the third-year tight end's run blocking in the second half, when the Lions scored on three consecutive drives.
Despite significant attention being directed toward Hockenson's improved route-running and pass-game production, Johnson said he's been just as pleased with the improvements Hockenson has made with his blocking.
"It's the consistency," Johnson said. "I would say the first half of last season, it was hit and miss, it was hot and cold. But through the first three games this year, boy, has he been a lot more reliable there. It's not been perfect, there is plenty of room to improve, but not only (is he) nailing the assignments, but the different looks, the possibilities that could come up, and he's playing faster because of that.
"I think for a guy that weighs 240, 245, 250 (pounds), in that range, he can hold up against a lot bigger players with his skill set, his physicality," Johnson continued. "He's stronger than he looks, and his quickness, I think, is elite for that position. It's been really encouraging so far what he's been able to do to help us out in the run game."
This Sunday's opponent, the Chicago Bears, largely have limited the impact of opposing tight ends through three weeks, allowing nine catches for 91 yards and one touchdown.
As a special assistant to owner Sheila Ford Hamp and team president Rod Wood, Chris Spielman wears a lot of hats in the organization. But based on his daily presence on the practice field, one of those hats essentially has been assistant inside linebacker coach.
Every day, Spielman can be spotted attached to the hip of position coach Mark DeLeone, helping young players such as Derrick Barnes and Anthony Pittman navigate their way through the execution of various position drills.
That could be viewed as intimidating for DeLeone, having such a strong voice with a direct line to ownership working with his group. Instead, the position coach raved about the positive contributions Spielman has been making.
“Who could not have a great relationship with Chris Spielman?" DeLeone said. "He’s the best. I mean, I love him. For me, he’s a lot of things. He’s a friend, he’s a resource, he’s somebody who I count on day in and day out as somebody I can talk to, because there are certain players who no matter what era they played in could play. Chris is one of those guys, man.
"He understands the linebacker position," DeLeone said. "I think there’s a lot of things that I’m really good at, one of them was not playing football. So, for me, it’s great when I think I have a great idea, somebody I can bounce the idea off of and talk to. I think he’s outstanding with our players, but more than anything, he loves this team so much. I think it’s great just to have him around me, around my guys, is awesome."
DeLeone said Spielman is very conscientious about building on his coaching points, not countering them with different information.
“He says it all the time, he’s the best (quality-control coach) in this league," DeLeone said with a laugh.
Flowers still out
The Lions remained without offside linebacker Trey Flowers for Wednesday's practice. This after he didn't practice all last week and was held out of Sunday's game against Baltimore while nursing knee and shoulder injuries.
With Flowers out, Charles Harris, Julian Okwara and Austin Bryant all saw extended playing time. The trio had a big day against the Ravens, combining for 12 quarterback pressures and two sacks.
"I thought as a whole, this was their best game as a unit," Campbell said about his outside linebacking group. "I thought every one of those guys had a winning performance and gave us a chance. ... I thought they pinned their ears back, and I thought, in the run, they did exactly what we asked them to do. They did the game plan to a 'T' and it showed. Then, when we needed them to affect the quarterback, they did that."