Pro Bowl tight end T.J. Hockenson seemed pretty confident last week the hand injury that was keeping him out of practice wouldn't prevent him from missing games.
"It'll be fine," Hockenson said last week. "No worries here."
But the injury did prevent him from playing in Denver last week, and it turns out it will end his 2021 season prematurely. Lions head coach Dan Campbell confirmed Friday Hockenson had season-ending surgery on Thursday.
"He had surgery yesterday and fixed his hand, so yeah, obviously that'll probably do him in right there for playing the rest of the year," Campbell said Friday. "We'll miss him. Everything went well, though."
Campbell said Hockenson got the injury assessed and then got a second opinion. Hockenson weighed his options and opted for surgery.
View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Thursday, Dec. 16, 2021.
Hockenson, who is coming off his first Pro Bowl in 2020, leads the Lions with 61 receptions for 583 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games played this season. Last year, he set career highs with 67 catches for 723 yards and six touchdowns.
He's been quarterback Jared Goff's most reliable pass catcher all season, and he'll be missed the final four games of the season.
Expect undrafted rookie Brock Wright and practice squad tight end Shane Zylstra to fill in for Hockenson.
"He kind of got a little bit passed over while he was at Notre Dame, but it wasn't so much because of his skill set, it was just more, 'Hey, we're going to put you more in the blocking because you're better than these guys maybe in that role, and we'll get them the ball,'" Lions tight ends coach Ben Johnson said of Wright last week. "So it's kind of a double whammy for him on that. But he can play. He can play ball in this league."
Hockenson is expected to be ready to go when the Lions begin their offseason training program to begin the 2022 season.
With all the turnover in Detroit's secondary due to injury and COVID-19, one can certainly appreciate the rock that cornerback Amani Oruwariye has become for Detroit's secondary. He's played in and started all 13 games for the Lions this season.
"Due the nature of our current circumstances, I've been more than appreciative of his ability to always be ready," defensive backs coach Aubrey Pleasant said Friday of Oruwariye. "I just think it speaks volumes to who he is as a person, the way he handles his profession, but more importantly his preparation he takes for each game.
"I've really enjoyed watching him grow not only as a player but also as a man and as a leader in this room."
Jerry Jacobs was the only other Lions cornerback to play in every game this season, but his streak will end at 13 (nine starts) after suffering an ACL injury last week that ended his season. AJ Parker has the next most games played among the cornerbacks at nine. The Lions are hoping to have Parker back this week after a short stint on IR.
Currently, the Lions have five cornerbacks on the Reserve/COVID-19 list, and Campbell said Friday he wasn't expecting to get anyone back before Sunday.
"We have to work with what we got," Oruwariye said Thursday. "I've always kind of helped (get guys up to speed) because I've always been the most experienced guy I guess in the room. We'll be alright. Guys are practicing fast and practicing hard and trusting the plays. I think we'll be alright."
Sometimes the best ability is availability, and Oruwariye has been that for Detroit's secondary this year. He's developed into a consistent playmaker in his third season, as his five interceptions are currently tied for the third most in the NFL.
Pleasant has been without seven players total in his secondary this week due to COVID-19 and is preparing to play a potent Arizona passing attack Sunday with some backups, waiver claims and practice squad players expected to contribute.
"I use the phrase, 'That's why they call you coach,'" Pleasant said. "This is my job. This is my profession. I take these challenges personally."
Pleasant said despite the challenge, the standard is the standard no matter who steps in there and plays this week, and he's looking at this as a great opportunity for some guys to step up and make the most of a rare opportunity.
Starting left guard Jonah Jackson hasn't practiced this week due to a back injury, and the Lions could be without him Sunday. If so, Campbell said rookie Tommy Kraemer will be ready to step in, if needed.
"He's been taking the reps this week," Campbell said of Kraemer. "As you guys know he played vs. Chicago. We know he'll be ready to go in there and know what to do and he'll battle, if needed."
Kraemer filled in for Halapoulivaati Vaitai in Cleveland when Vaitai suffered a concussion, and then started the following week against Chicago. In the 82 reps he played in those two contests he was credited with allowing just one quarterback hit and one pressure by Pro Football Focus.