Way back on Thanksgiving, Detroit Lions rookie tight end T.J. Hockenson suffered a gruesome ankle injury that ended his season. After catching a pass late in the game, Hockenson’s ankle rolled underneath his body and was landed on by Bears linebacker Roquan Smith.
Hockenson was put on injured reserve shortly thereafter, and whenever he was spotted in the locker room for the next month, he was on a scooter, keeping all weight off that right ankle.
Nearly seventh months later, we finally got an update on Hockenson’s status, courtesy of his offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell.
“You can’t say he’s 100 percent yet, but I think he’s well on the way to getting there,” Bevell said. “He’s done a great job with his rehab.”
Per Bevell, Hockenson is in the running phase of his rehabilitation, which includes running routes. In fact, the Lions offensive coordinator said Hockenson is planning on getting some time with Matthew Stafford soon this offseason, who has already trained with several of the Lions receivers and running backs in Georgia.
“I know he’s going to get some time with Matthew throwing and catching,” Bevell said. “So I’m comfortable with where he’s at along the rehab part.”
After a record-breaking NFL debut, Hockenson’s rookie season slowed to a crawl for the rest of the year. Combine that with a forgettable season from free agent addition Jesse James, and the tight end crew was easily one of the biggest disappointment in 2019. However, Bevell knows it’s his responsibility to get those two more involved in the offense this season.
“As far as both of those guys go, I just had a conversation with Jesse three days ago, and it’s my job to help those guys more involved,” Bevell said. “The good part about the job is I got all these weapons, and that’s also the bad part about the job. There’s only one ball.”
And therein lies a big challenge for the Lions and Bevell. With a talented set of wide receivers and a couple of legitimate threats out of the backfield, Detroit is going to have to get creative to find opportunities to get the ball to their talented tight ends.
Last year, Hockenson caught just 32 catches for 367 yards and two touchdowns. While those stats pretty much align with the averages for first-round tight ends in their rookie season, expectations are higher for a player like Hockenson, who was taken in the top 10. James only added 16 catches of his own.
But Bevell is already seeing some growth from Hockenson, based on the virtual meetings this offseason.
“I think he’s emerging as one of the leaders for us,” Bevell said. “Obviously, you’ve got to come in and get a comfort level, but he’s a confident kid. He’s willing to speak up. He wants to be really good at his position, so he puts in the time to do that. I just have to continue to get him opportunities to get the ball.”