Could T.J. Hockenson’s role in the Lions’ offense actually grow?

Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson takes the field for practice during the first day of training camp July 27, 2022 in Allen Park.
Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson takes the field for practice during the first day of training camp July 27, 2022 in Allen Park. /

T.J. Hockenson will continue to be a big part of the Lions’ offense, but could his role evolve this year?

Coming off back-to-back 60-catch seasons, despite missing the final five games last season,  tight end T.J. Hockenson will be a prominent part of the Lions’ offense this year and until further notice as he and team work on a long-term contract.

Entering a new season, his fourth in the league, Hockenson has become used to changes on the Lions coaching staff. Ben Johnson will be his third offensive coordinator, but he was the Lions’ tight ends coach last year and in 2020. Prior to that, he worked closely with Hockenson as a quality control coach.

After the first training camp practice on Wednesday, via Tim Twentyman of the Lions’ website, Hockenson noted his familiarity with Johnson.

"He was a QC (quality control) here three or four years ago and we would sneak into the rooms and he would help me with the offense, with watching film and doing a bunch of things,”"

Ben Johnson may have big plans for T.J. Hockenson

As noted by Twentyman, Hockenson lined up all over the field and was put in motion at times during offseason work. Having more weapons around him will help Hockenson find more room to operate, while opening up options for where and how he can be used.

The question, with how prominent a target he has been the last couple seasons, is this.

Does Hockenson’s role in the Lions’ offense have room to evolve?

According to RotoWire (subscription required), here’s how Hockenson was deployed last season, with the number and percentage of his snaps that came in each spot.

Left Tight: 191 snaps-29.1 percent
Right Tight: 168 snaps–25.6 percent
Right Slot: 159 snaps–24.2 perent
Left Slot: 115 snaps-17.5 percent
Left Outside: 12 snaps–1.8 percent
Right Outside-12 snaps-1.8 percent

It’s still a unique subset of tight ends who can line up on the outside and be effective. Hockenson seems to have enough athleticism to be good on the perimeter, along with the ability to win contested catch situations that is practically unrivaled among the league’s tight ends.

Hockenson added hints about what Johnson may have in store for him.

"He’s seen what I can do and seen I can be split out by the numbers and win against a DB and win against a corner,” Hockenson said of Johnson. “That’s nice to have as your OC and have somebody that can trust in you. So, we’re going to have fun with it. He’s going to let me do some things and I’m excited for it."

Hockenson has a baseline for what he can do, but he certainly has to room to improve and grow. It certainly seems Johnson won’t be leaving any stone unturned to get the most out of the Lions’ No. 1 tight end, and to find unique ways to deploy him.

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