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O'HARA'S FINAL THOUGHTS: Hockenson building a quick connection with Goff

Detroit Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson has built a quick connection with quarterback Jared Goff much in the same way he made one with Matthew Stafford.

There's a difference, mostly off the field and age related.

Stafford is 33, now in his 13th season after spending the first 12 in Detroit, and married with four kids. Goff is going into his sixth NFL season after five with the Rams – Stafford's new team after the mammoth trade between the Lions and Rams -- and turns 27 next month.

"Jared's a great dude," Hockenson said. "Just a genuine guy that cares about his teammates. And he's more my age. It's really cool to have that aspect of off-the-field friendship.

"Being able to go out to dinner with him is really cool. That's a little different in that respect. Staff and I did have a really good relationship. I'd say it's more of a friendship with J.G.

"We can hang out. He doesn't have three or four kids or five kids running around. That's the difference."

Outside projections for the Lions are not promising, either for Sunday's opener against the 49ers at Ford Field, or for their won-loss record for the 2021 season.

As the Lions embark on their first season under head coach Dan Campbell, every positive connection – however small – is meaningful.

That's especially true if one of their best players – and Hockenson certainly is one of them – is in lockstep with the quarterback. Hockenson made the Pro Bowl in 2020 in his second season, and that was just the start of what he can accomplish.

Hockenson jumped from 32 catches and 367 yards as a rookie in 2019 to 67 catches and 723 yards in Year 2. Is another jump of 30-plus receptions possible? I wouldn't bet a lot against it.

Hockenson is a believer in Goff's ability to lead the offense.

"He played in the Super Bowl one season," Hockenson said. "He won playoff games. He's done all this for a reason.

"Jared Goff is a winner who played well in this league for years."

Frank talk: I expect more this year from the Lions' offensive line and the running game. It can help balance the scale to some degree against opponents like the 49ers, who are heavily favored.

It will be more difficult for however long left tackle Taylor Decker is out with the hand injury sustained in practice last week. Decker was placed on IR Saturday.

Center Frank Ragnow likes where the unit is headed but thinks there is more work to be done. That's one reason he made the Pro Bowl in 2020 in his third season -- and why he was voted a team captain.

"I don't think it'll ever be where we want it to be," Ragnow said. "That's kind of how it is. Hopefully, we can keep climbing and get better as the season goes on.

"Chemistry-wise, I'm very happy with where we are. We all think the same. That's huge for offensive line play."

The run game – an ongoing project – will take some heat off Goff. That would be a tough chore against the 49ers' pass rushers with or without Decker.

"It's one of the best fronts we'll face all year," Ragnow said. "A good running game really helps out all aspects of the game, whether it's the defense keeping their offense off the field, setting up play action, field position.

"It doesn't really matter who we're playing. It's going to help us out."

View photos from Detroit Lions practice on Friday, Sep. 10, 2021.

Random thoughts: It's no wonder Lions players warmed to defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn so quickly. His veteran savvy of 15 seasons playing cornerback in the NFL and his youthful energy make a great combination.

He's as eager as any player to start the season and take on a schedule that has the Lions playing their first five game against the 49ers, Packers, Ravens, Bears and Vikings.

"Our guys are looking forward to this challenge, as I am," Glenn said. "I am fired up about it. That's not too often when you play a stretch of teams like we're going to play.

"Not saying I'm looking ahead, but to play a team like this team of this magnitude – man, it can't get no better than this."

Secondary youth: Age shouldn't be a concern in the Lions' secondary, with cornerback Amani Oruwariye the oldest of the four starters at 25.

It was 40 years ago that the 1981 49ers had three rookie starters – cornerbacks Ronnie Lott (22, first round) and Eric Wright (22, second round) and strong safety Carlton Williamson (23, third round).

The old man was 25-year-old free safety Dwight Hicks, a fifth-round pick by the Lions in 1978.

The 49ers went 13-3 and beat the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI – at the Pontiac Silverdome.

My pick for Sunday: The surest bet in the NFL is that there are no sure things.

The Lions are underdogs to the 49ers by 8 to 9 points. Maybe that's a fair spread. However, I see the 49ers with one winning record in the last four years.

Pick: 49ers 26, Lions 24.

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