T.J. Hockeson burst onto the NFL scene last year for the Detroit Lions with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown in Detroit's Week 1 tie with Arizona after the Lions made him the No. 8 overall pick in the NFL Draft last offseason.
Hockeson reached 50 receiving yards in a game just one other time during his rookie year before an ankle injury suffered Week 13 ended his season prematurely. But offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell saw enough of Hockenson's ability in that first season to expect a big second year from his young tight end in 2020.
"I thought T.J. came in and really did a good job for us," Bevell said. "I think he's emerging as one of the leaders for us. Obviously, you have to come in and get a comfort level. 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 the opportunities to get the ball."
To that point, Hockenson was targeted just 59 times last season and finished with 32 receptions for 367 yards and two scores. Hockenson could have had a couple more touchdowns added to those numbers, but he wasn't able to finish a couple plays in the end zone, something Bevell says Hockeson will continue to focus on.
"He's got to continue to work on finishing plays when he's going to the ground with the ball, I think you guys can remember a couple of those," Bevell said. "He's really a tireless worker and he just does a great job, he's always asking what he can do better or what he can improve on and he's willing to do anything that we ask. I like that about him, but again, more opportunities for me giving him chances to be able to make plays for us."
Bevell said that also applies to fellow tight end Jesse James, who the Lions acquired in free agency last offseason. James was targeted just 27 times in 16 games, and finished with 16 catches for 142 yards and no touchdowns.
"As far as both those guys go (Hockenson and James), I just had a conversation with Jesse and it's my job to help those guys get more involved," Bevell said. "The good part about the job is I have all these weapons and that's also the bad part about the job. I mean, there's only one ball. I talked to Jesse about getting Jesse more involved, but all those guys need to have opportunities to touch the ball, whether they're the skill guys on the outside or whether it's the easiest way handing it to those running backs.
"We have to able to find a good mix to keep the defenses honest. Just like last year, you'll see a tight end have a big game, you'll see a wideout have a big game. Sometimes that's scheme. Sometimes it's matchup. It's what the defense is presenting to us and who they're putting on guys. So, I think you'll still see it move around in terms of who gets the ball, but definitely it's something I've talked to those (tight ends) about getting them more involved where they're showing up and having games like that."
Hockenson is currently in the running part of his rehab protocol this offseason for the ankle injury. He's running routes, but isn't quite 100 percent yet, according to Bevell, but he's well on his way to getting there.
"He's done a great job with his rehab," Bevell said. "He's always been a good worker that way."
Tight ends don't come into this league their rookie year and light it up statistically, there's no examples of that in recent history, even with players like Travis Kelce, George Kittle and Rob Gronkowski, considered among the best at the tight end position currently.
Each of those players, however, did see a significant increase in production in year two, something the Lions are hoping to see from Hockenson in 2020. But in order for that to happen, Bevell has to get the tight end position more involved in the offense, something he plans to do in 2020.