Detroit Lions’ T.J. Hockenson has ‘plenty of meat on the bone’ heading into 2021 season

Detroit Free Press

T.J. Hockenson earned a Pro Bowl nod with his breakout season in 2020. Now, his position coach with the Detroit Lions said Hockenson is poised for even bigger things in 2021.

“I think it’s been a fairly consistent message all offseason from Coach (Dan) Campbell to A-Lynn (offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn) that there’s plenty meat still on that bone for him,” Lions tight ends coach Ben Johnson said last week. “And I think he’s embraced that. He agrees with that and we’re really looking forward to getting more out of him now.”

Hockenson finished fourth among tight ends with 67 catches and third at the position with 723 yards receiving last season, when he became a more polished route runner and a favorite target of Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford.

The Lions traded Stafford to the Los Angeles Rams in January, and Hockenson told the Free Press in April that he and new Lions QB Jared Goff were hard at work trying to build a similar bond.

Hockenson is one of several Lions who traveled to California to throw with Goff this offseason. He said he and Goff have been in regular contact via text message since the trade.

“He’s such a good dude and I’m stoked,” Hockenson said. “I think he’s going to be a big part and everything. But besides that, I’m just down here in Nashville training. We’re killing it every day trying to – I got Robby (Tonyan), George (Kittle), all these tight ends. I’m just surrounded by tight ends, which is amazing. There’s nothing better than pushing each other, seeing O-linemen push some weight up and you’re like, ‘All right, here we go.’ Trying to keep up with the O-line, so it is cool. We’re just pushing each other every day and just getting better at it.”

Without sharing specifics, Johnson said he and the new Lions staff have picked out “three to five things” that will be points of emphasis for Hockenson to improve in 2021.

Hockenson averaged 4.9 yards after catch last season and often went to the ground prematurely to make plays. He is a willing but still-developing blocker. And his drop rate ticked up last season from 3.4% to 6.9%, according to Pro Football Reference.

“During the season we keep track of what he’s doing well within a four-game stretch, so every quarter of the season we like to keep track of that and we kind of set goals for him for each four-game stretch,” Johnson said. “We feel like we’ve got a good handle over the course of the season what he’s excelling at, where he needs to improve. At the end of the season we do a big review, where was he, were we right with all that? And then what did it look like? And so with Coach Campbell coming in and all these new coaches is a new set of eyes and it reaffirmed a lot of things that I thought.”

Behind Hockenson, the Lions are in flux at the tight end position. They signed veteran Darren Fells to a one-year deal after Josh Hill’s surprise retirement, but otherwise have a quintet of unproven players in Alize Mack, Hunter Thedford, Charlie Taumoepeau and undrafted rookies Jake Hausmann and Brock Wright.

Johnson said the next few weeks of organized team activities and mandatory minicamp will be crucial to deciding who fits best on the roster.

“It’s a little bit of a unique situation because there are jobs out there for the taking,” he said. “Each one of those guys brings something different to the table skill set wise, but I’m really looking forward to see how they complement each other because it’s a little bit of a puzzle how we put that room together. We don’t want three pass-catching tight ends, we don’t want three run-blocking tight ends. We want the best mix that can make us the biggest threat here on offense and A-Lynn’s vision for this offense going forward.”

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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