Detroit Lions minicamp observations: T.J. Hockenson is headed for a big season in 2021

Detroit Free Press

If Dan Campbell is being honest, the Detroit Lions are not exactly where he thought they would be when he was named head coach in January.

“We thought we were going to get extra time being a new staff,” Campbell said Thursday. “We were going to have an extra vet minicamp, we would be going full-team segments and all of that. So it’s not what I expected from that regard, but I can tell you this, it’s been great to have these guys here.”

The Lions wrapped up minicamp Thursday with a spirited workout that lasted just over an hour and when they return for training camp in July, Campbell said they will be three to four weeks ahead of where they would have been had they lost the entire offseason to COVID-19.

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They covered first- and second-down work this spring and both their base and sub packages. They installed their third-down offense and defense, from third-and-short to third-and-long. They spent Tuesday’s minicamp practice working on red-zone situations. And they closed camp Thursday with a period of seven-on-seven two-minute work.

Jared Goff had another solid practice Thursday, leading the Lions’ first-team offense to a touchdown and, in what likely is a sign of things to come, making heavy use of tight end T.J. Hockenson.

Goff completed 6 of 9 passes in the final period, when the offense was staked with a first-and-10 at its own 25-yard line, down 24-20, with 1:48 left in the first half.

Four of his eight attempts (one was a clear throw-away) and three of his completions went to Hockenson, including a touchdown against linebacker Alex Anzalone.

After throwing incomplete to Hockenson to start the drive — Hockenson seemed to think Quinton Dunbar held him on the play — Goff hit Tyrell Williams on the far sideline then found Hockenson on a post route for a big gain down the field.

Hockenson made a nice toe-tap along the sideline on another catch to put the offense in first-and-goal from the 8. Dunbar had good coverage on a fade route that landed incomplete to Williams on first down. Goff looked Hockenson’s way on second down, but the tight end was hauled to the ground in double coverage so Goff threw the ball away. And on third down, Hockenson caught an easy pass across the middle of the field for a score.

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This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone given the makeup of the Lions’ receiving corps, but for all the fantasy football GMs out there, I’d suggest investing heavily in Hockenson this fall. He could have an 80-catch if he stays healthy, and he clearly will be a chain mover over the middle of the field.

Beyond Hockenson, Williams, running back D’Andre Swift and rookie Amon-Ra St. Brown caught passes in the two-minute drill, and I’m leaving spring thinking those will be Goff’s 2-4 receiving options – in whatever order – this fall.

Williams made a nice catch on a deflected pass by Amani Oruwariye on the second play of the period, and Swift is a bonafide receiving threat out of the backfield.

Breshad Perriman was the other skill player on the field with the No. 1 offense, but he did not do much to pop in any of the practices that were open to reporters.

More observations from Thursday’s practice:

• Cornerback Jeff Okudah did only light work Thursday after Campbell said he and receiver Damion Ratley “kind of bumped noggins in walk-through” on Wednesday. Neither Okudah nor Ratley practice Wednesday.

Okudah went through the installation period at the start of Thursday’s practice at his normal left cornerback spot while wearing a big bandage on his forehead over his left eye, then did not participate in other drills. Ratley, who also appeared to have a bandage on his forehead, did take part in practice.

• Safety Tracy Walker also sat out practice Thursday, leaving the Lions to play with a first-team secondary of Oruwariye and Dunbar at cornerback, Will Harris and Dean Marlowe at safety, and Mike Ford at the slot cornerback spot.

Perhaps Corn Elder wins the nickel job this fall, but Ford has looked the part heading into his fourth season. I remain concerned about the Lions’ depth at safety, though Campbell has expressed confidence in the group. Either way, the Lions will need their pass rush to show up weekly to help support a developing unit.

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• Tim Boyle followed Goff in running the second-team offense through a two-minute drill, and his practiced ended with an interception. Undrafted rookie tight ends Jake Hausmann and Brock Wright made catches during the period (which goes to show, again, how much tight end will be emphasized in Anthony Lynn’s offense), and Kalif Raymond had a chain-moving catch when he beat Elder on an out, but also a drop.

A.J. Parker, who took second-team reps opposite Ifeatu Melifonwu, notched the interception, when Boyle tried to strong-arm a pass to Damion Ratley on the far sideline from the left hash.

• David Blough, who took third-string reps in camp, did not get a chance to run the offense through a two-minute drill.

Blough, incidentally, said after practice that he and his wife, Melissa, will find out later this month if she qualifies for the Olympics. A college hurdler at Texas, Melissa won a gold medal in the 400-meter hurdles at the South American Championships — she competes for Colombia — in 2019.

“June 29 we’ll know for sure, but yeah, if it ended today, she’d be in,” Blough said. “We’re really excited about what this summer could look like for her. These next few weeks will be some heavy training load and then hopefully I’ll be staying up till 2 a.m. one night in training camp or something watching her in Japan.”

• Apart from the two-minute drills, the Lions spent time working on returns Thursday. They positioned a return man at the goal line and had him try to evade two oncoming defenders while trying to stay between the numbers.

Tom Kennedy got special teams coordinator Dave Fipp fired up when he avoided being tagged down on two consecutive reps, splitting the defenders one time and getting outside of one tackler the second. Raymond’s explosiveness as a return man were evident in the drill, and Victor Bolden had a pair of impressive reps, too. On one return, Bolden beat Charles Harris to the outside, then cut back on a second defender.

Bolden had a strong spring and is a legitimate contender for a roster spot.

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• Not a ton to report from the first seven-on-seven session of the day as Goff spent much of the period checking down to his receivers. Kennedy made a nice catch on a Blough pass with Parker draped on him, and Blough threw a nice ball on the play, keeping it low and out of Parker’s reach. Michael Warren did have a ball punched out of his hands on the final rep of the period, though he recovered the fumble. And Jermar Jefferson dropped a pass during the drill, which was at least his second drop of the week.

• One more injury note: Jalen Reeves-Maybin (heel) sat out practice for the second straight day Thursday, and when he joined his teammates on the field midway through the workout, he did so with a noticeable limp.

Contact Dave Birkett at Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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