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Hockenson in line to have big role in Ben Johnson's offense

When T.J. Hockenson was a rookie in 2019 and just trying to find his way in the NFL, an offensive quality control coach for the Detroit Lions named Ben Johnson did anything he could to try and give the young tight end a head start.

"He was a QC (quality control) here three or four years ago and we would sneak into the rooms and he would help me with the offense, with watching film and doing a bunch of things," Hockenson said after Wednesday's opening practice of training camp.

Johnson would become Hockenson's tight end coach the next two seasons in 2020 and 2021. He was elevated to passing game coordinator the second half of last year and was named the team's new offensive coordinator this offseason. It's been quite the rise for Johnson over the last few seasons.

View photos from Day 1 of Detroit Lions training camp on Wednesday July 27, 2022.

There's no coach on this roster that knows Hockenson and his ability better than Johnson, both from working with him as a quality control coach and being his position coach the last two years. Now it's Johnson running the offense, and that could mean big things for Hockenson in his fourth season in the league. We already saw in the offseason training program Johnson using Hockenson in a lot of different ways. He was in-line, would stand up in the slot, and was motioned quite a bit. He even played out wide some.

"He's a special player. How many times can we get him the ball in different places?" quarterback Jared Goff said of Hockenson Wednesday. "Obviously, Ben may have – he may never say it – but he has a slight bias to try and get those tight ends the ball. T.J. is obviously a great player and a guy we want to get the ball to, so any creative ways we can do that I'm sure (Johnson) will be able to come up with."

Hockenson was a Pro Bowler for Detroit in his second season in 2020, catching 67 passes on 101 targets for 723 yards and six touchdowns. He was on pace to surpass those numbers last year before a thumb injury prevented him from playing in the final five games of the season. He still finished with 61 grabs for 583 yards and four scores in 12 games. His 5.1 receptions per game average was third best among tight ends and his catch percentage of 72.6 percent was sixth best at the position.

With some of the additions the Lions made at wide receiver in both free agency and the draft, Hockenson is excited about what those additions might mean for him, like more space to operate and fewer double teams.

Johnson knows better than anyone what Hockenson can do, and early indications are he's going to be a big part of the equation offensively for the Lions.

"He's seen what I can do and seen I can be split out by the numbers and win against a DB and win against a corner," Hockenson said of Johnson. "That's nice to have as your OC and have somebody that can trust in you. So, we're going to have fun with it. He's going to let me do some things and I'm excited for it."

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