Bevell Says 'More Opportunities' Are Coming T.J. Hockenson's Way

T.J. Hockenson's first NFL season started with a twist and ended as expected. He went wild in his debut, unlike any rookie tight end ever. Then he slipped out of sight, like all of the rest. 

"T.J. came out with a bang in that first game," Lions offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said Wednesday on a Zoom call with local media. "We were obviously really excited about what he did in that game and what we thought he could do. It kind of tailed off. Obviously didn’t have that huge of a game again." 

Not even close. After going off for 131 yards and a touchdown in Week 1, Hockenson averaged about 20 yards per game the rest of the season -- including five games when he had one catch or fewer. By the end of the year, he ranked outside the league's top 25 tight ends on every statistical leaderboard. 

But if Hockenson's production waned, so did his number of opportunities. He got nine targets in his debut, then averaged fewer than five per game the rest of the season -- including five games where he got three or fewer. Bevell is committed to helping Hockenson, the eighth overall pick in 2019, make more of an impact in year two. 

"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 opportunities to get the ball," Bevell said. "One of the things I’ll just throw out there, he’s gotta 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 (dropped passes). 

"But he really is a tireless worker. He’s always asking what he can do better and he’s willing to do anything that we ask, so I like that about him. But again, just more opportunities from me, giving him chances to be able to make plays for us." 

Dropped passes were indeed an issue for Hockenson last season, who was nothing but sure-handed throughout college and training camp. He let at least two touchdowns slip through his fingers, including one in a brutal Week 4 loss at Green Bay.

If it was a trying year for Hockenson, whose season ended in Week 13 due to an ankle injury, imagine what it was like for Jesse James. The veteran tight end signed a $22 million deal with Detroit last offseason with the expectation of a bigger role, then caught a total of 16 passes in 16 games. He got fewer targets than third-string TE and converted quarterback Logan Thomas. 
Meanwhile, the Lions' vision of torching defenses with two tight ends went up in smoke. Bevell knows James needs more looks this season, too. 

"I just had a conversation with Jessie two or three days ago," he said. "The good part about the job is I got all these weapons, and that’s also the bad part about the job -- there’s only one ball. So I talked to Jesse about getting him move involved. 

"But all of those guys need to have opportunities, whether it’s the skill guys on the outside or it's handing it to those running backs. Gotta be able to find a good mix and keep defenses honest. I think you’ll still see it move around in terms of who gets the ball, but it’s definitely something I’ve talked to those guys about, getting them more involved where they’re showing up and having (big) games like that."

As for Hockenson's ankle, he should be good to go for the start of training camp. Bevell said he's running routes and "well on the way" to being 100 percent. 

"He’s done a great job with his rehab," said Bevell. "He’s always been a good worker that way, so I know he’s going to get some time with Matthew (Stafford) throwing and catching. I’m comfortable with where he’s at on the rehab side."