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Tight ends coach Ben Johnson sees Hockenson as an ascending player

What tight end T.J. Hockenson produced in his second season with the Detroit Lions looked good on the stats sheet.

It should have. Hockenson more than doubled his production in key areas from his rookie year.

He jumped from 32 catches, 367 yards and two TDs to 67 catches, 723 yards and six TDs.

He also stayed healthy, playing all 16 games after missing the last four of his rookie season with a leg injury.

In the regular review and analysis process conducted during and after the season, tight ends coach Ben Johnson sees Hockenson as an ascending player.

He did not reach his peak in 2020. His performance was a step in his progression.

"There's plenty of meat still on the bone," Johnson said in a Zoom interview. "We're looking forward to getting even more from him.

"The sky's the limit for this kid. I really look forward to seeing him take that next step."

The tight end position has undergone a transformation under new head coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn.

Jesse James was released after two disappointing seasons.

Josh Hill, a solid role player for eight seasons with the Saints as primarily a blocking tight end, retired unexpectedly after signing with the Lions as a free agent.

Darren Fells was signed to fill that veteran gap. Fells is a converted basketball player with seven seasons of NFL experience. He had 17 receptions in his one season as a Lion (2017).

Fells set career highs for receptions (48), yards (341) and TDs (7) in 2019 with the Texans.

Five other tight ends in addition to Fells and Hockenson are on the offseason roster. Three are rookies, and two are designated with one year of experience.

Also, Hunter Bryant, who had one catch for the Lions as a rookie in 2020, is on the reserve roster with a non-football injury.

Hill's retirement changed the dynamic of the tight end room. It was a surprise, especially since Campbell was his position coach in New Orleans.

"We felt like he had some more in the tank," Johnson said. "We liked what we saw on film last year. We were excited to have him on the squad.

"The room does change. It absolutely does. We have two veterans in there and five young guys that are hungry.

"They sense opportunity. It's a little bit of a unique situation. There are jobs out there for the taking."

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