Even after 8-catch game, T.J. Hockenson knows he must do more for Lions’ offense

Detroit Free Press

T.J. Hockenson’s play has declined as defenses have paid him more mind in recent weeks, and the Detroit Lions tight end said it is up to him to reverse that trend Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams.

“I know what defenses think of how I play,” Hockenson said. “I know what they’re looking at when they’re seeing the film. I understand they study, too. But on the same hand, I still have to get open, I have to find different ways, I have to do different things in my route. I have to marry things up with the run, with the pass, with each route tree, and just trying to make releases look the same but different.”

Hockenson is one of four Lions listed as questionable for Sunday, but he is expected to play for the third straight week through a knee injury.

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D’Andre Swift (groin), Trey Flowers (knee) and Jason Cabinda (hip) also are questionable and trending toward playing after practicing on a limited basis the past two days.

Hockenson had eight catches in each of the Lions’ first two games, and eight combined the next three weeks in losses to the Baltimore Ravens, Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings.

He rebounded with an eight-catch performance in last week’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, but struggled in other areas of his game.

“He did not play his best game last week,” Lions tight ends coach Ben Johnson said. “I think he’ll be the first one to tell you that and he knows that for us to get back on the track that we want to go to, that he needs to play better and I think he will.”

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Hockenson admitted he has been frustrated at times, both with the Lions’ 0-6 start and the team’s struggles offensively. But coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance, he said he’s come to the conclusion he needs to do more to help the Lions win.

“There’s obviously a lot of areas I want to get better in,” he said. “Obviously (defenses are) looking at different situations, they’re trying to scheme up different things, but on the same hand I’m trying to do what I can do in order to create separation. There’s a lot of times on film that there are separations and there’s different things that have happened, whether it’s — whatever it is. It’s hard to I guess hone in on one thing when there’s a lot that’s out there that we need to get done.”

More injury news

Lions coach Dan Campbell acknowledged Friday that left tackle Taylor Decker had “a setback” last week in his return from finger surgery and will not play Sunday against the Rams.

“Look, I know he wants to play, man.” Campbell said. “Hell, I talked to him (Thursday). He’s dying to play, but we’ve got to get through it and let this thing just get to feeling right. That’s the bottom line.”

Because the Lions have a bye in Week 9, Campbell said they have extended time, until Nov. 9, to activate Decker to the 53-man roster.

Rookie cornerback Ifeatu Melifonwu remains “a little ways away” from returning from the quad injury he suffered in a Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers. A third-round pick out of Syracuse, Melifonwu opened the season as a backup to Jeff Okudah, but was thrust into the starting lineup when Okudah suffered a torn Achilles tendon.

“He is getting better,” Campbell said. “I wish I could give you a timeline, but … I do feel like we can get him to return before the season’s out. I feel that way. Now, I’m not a doctor, so don’t hold that on me.”

Jeff Okudah ‘doing great’

Okudah made a brief appearance at practice this week, watching part of Wednesday’s workout from the sideline while confined to a knee scooter.

Campbell said the Lions’ 2020 first-round pick will do most of his rehab in Allen Park to stay around the team. He is facing a nine- to 12-month recovery.

“He really is doing great,” Campbell said.” I know he wishes he could be out here. He wants to play, he does, but he also understands, ‘There’s nothing I can do other than let this thing get right, let it heal and then start rehabbing, begin the rehab process.’

“But he’s been good. He scoots out here and comes and sees us and he’s back there. He’ll go into meetings. He’s been good. It’s been good to have him back. While he was recovering, he was out for a couple of weeks. Since he’s been back, he kind of brightens the building up a little bit.”

Contact Dave Birkett at dbirkett@freepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @davebirkett.

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