Tight end T.J. Hockenson is expecting a lot of family and friends to make the trip to Arizona to see his first professional football game Sunday.
Lions fans are also eagerly awaiting the regular-season debut of the team’s first-round pick – No. 8 overall.
As Sunday quickly approaches, Hockenson said his excitement level is rising as well as he’s eager to kick off his professional career and help show off what this new offense and new and improved tight end group can do.
“As a position group we’re real close,” Hockenson said of himself, Jesse James, Logan Thomas and Isaac Nauta (practice squad). “We’ve watched a lot of film together and we talk a lot and we hang out, so it’s cool and we’re excited to go out there and see what we can do.
“It’s an opportunity for us to get better and it’s an opportunity to show what we can do.”
Fans got a glimpse of Hockenson’s potential Week 3 of the preseason when he played a little more than a quarter with the starters. Hockenson caught three balls for 52 yards, including a 32-yarder that set up a touchdown.
James has caught at least 30 passes in each of the last three years in Pittsburgh – as a fourth or fifth option in that offense – and averaged 14.1 yards per catch last season. He’s in line to have a lot more opportunities in Darrell Bevell’s offense in Detroit.
“They are great targets in the passing game,” Bevell said of this current tight end group. “They have good length, they have good catch radiuses, they all catch the ball really well and they are willing blockers.
“Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses in the group. I mean it’s a huge upgrade. It’s a really good room for us right now.”
Levine Toilolo led all Lions tight ends last year with 21 receptions. There were 41 tight ends around the league who recorded more than 21 receptions last season. There were 14 tight ends league-wide who had more catches than all of the Lions’ tight ends combined.
I expect this crop of Lions tight ends to have a much bigger impact.
“I think we’re excited for the opportunity,” Hockenson said. “(Arizona) has a great defense. I think we’re excited to see how we can stack up against them.”
Lions defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni said this week he didn’t feel it was fair to put too much on any rookie's plate too early in their career.
The Lions drafted linebacker Jahlani Tavai in the second round, and he’s mixed in with the first-team defense throughout camp. He became a mainstay with the unit when starting MIKE linebacker Jarrad Davis suffered an ankle injury Week 3 of the preseason.
With Davis’ availability for Sunday’s game in question, Tavai, along with veteran linebackers Jalen Reeves-Maybin and Miles Killebrew, could be called upon to play a bigger role.
Tavai has fit right in during training camp and the preseason, but Pasqualoni seemed cautious this week when asked if he was comfortable with Tavai playing a big role, if needed.
“I think he’s a rookie,” Pasqualoni said. “So, we’re not going to put any undue pressure on a rookie, ever. We’ll try to coach him and bring him along. It’s the NFL, this is hard.”
Tavai seemed on the same page with his coach when he was asked this week if he felt comfortable with an expanded role.
“I’m just going to be ready for whatever,” he said. “That’s all you can do, adapt or die. Whenever the coaches need me, or where they need me, I’m going to play there. You just have to be ready and adapt on the go.”
We’ll see Sunday how much the Lions plan to use their versatile first-year linebacker in their scheme.
The team voted on captains Thursday morning. Quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Danny Amendola, linebacker Jarrad Davis, linebacker Devon Kennard, tackle Taylor Decker, safety Quandre Diggs and long snapper Don Muhlbach were named captains for the 2019 season.
“I’m a small town kid from Angleton, Texas, so for me, man, to be a captain of an NFL team, it’s something you always think about,” said the first-time captain Diggs. “You see your friends around the league and those guys get chosen captain and it’s something you think about a little bit in the back of your head.
“It’s here and I appreciate my teammates for giving me the opportunity to be their captain of the team this year and it comes with a lot of responsibility.”