Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson vindicates Lions safety Kerby Joseph for low hit

T.J. Hockenson does not blame Lions safety Kerby Joseph for the hit that resulted in his major knee injury.
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Late in their Wild Card Round playoff win over the Los Angeles Rams, Detroit Lions safety Kerby drew ire for a low hit that led to a torn ACL for Rams tight end Tyler Higbee. It also reminded us, and Vikings' fans and followers were sure to remind the world, about a similar hit on Vikings' tight end T.J. Hockenson a few weeks earlier on Christmas Eve.

NFL rules leave defensive players little choice but to go low. Higher hits invite the possibility of helmet contact, with subsequent on-field penalties and fines for said helmet-to-helmet hits. The defense of Joseph's hit on Higbee from his defensive teammates went a bit far in one particular case, and blame was misplaced on Rams' quarterback Matthew Stafford for even making the throw.

Since his injury (torn ACL and MCL in his right knee) came as a late as it did last season, Hockenson's status for Week 1 this coming season is naturally in doubt. The start of the Vikings' offseason work on Monday, including the presence of players like him who are rehabbing injuries, gave Hockenson an opportunity to speak about his injury for the first time.

T.J. Hockenson does not blame Kerby Joseph for his unfortunate injury

Via ESPN's Kevin Seifert, Hockenson summarized his initial feelings about his injury.

"Obviously," he said, "I wasn't too happy about it."

Hockenson had additional thoughts, calling on the league to address the difference on low hits. Defensive players can hit pass catchers low, but offensive players can't cut-block in similar areas.

"It's tough," Hockenson said. "It really is. We're big guys running through the middle of the field. This is a business, and I don't think anyone goes out on the field wanting to injure a player like that. So, I'm looking at the light of that and hoping that's not what the intent was, to injure a player in that sense. But I think to have it happen a couple weeks later [with Higbee], I think that's something the league needs to look and see what it can do."

Hockenson echoed a prevailing sentiment from players about preferring to suffer a concussion rather than risking a torn ACL on a low hit.

"That (a concussion) puts me out two weeks or three weeks," he said. "This put me out nine months. I can't even train. ... I would have had a normal offseason getting ready for the season. I know some [concussions] are worse than others, and I don't want to go down that train of what's worse and what's better. But I've had a concussion. It took me a week. I'm just looking at it from that pure timetable."

Hockenson of course played with Joseph before the Lions traded him to the Vikings at the 2022 deadline. He went on to say he doesn't think Joseph intended to injure him.

"I know Kerby pretty well," Hockenson said. "I've played with him. I don't necessarily think it was [intended to injure]. You go back on the tape and you see what happened. I know him. I don't think it was. I just want to make sure it wasn't and that's why I'm using my voice here. Players protect players. That's in any facet of the league. You don't want a defensive guy head-hunting or knee-hunting, and the same thing for an offensive guy."

After the hit on Higbee, Lions' head coach Dan Campbell rightly called out Joseph's tackling technique on the play ("see what you hit."). He could have been badly injured his head/neck/spine, and he was lucky he didn't.

But for Hockenson's part, regarding a similar situation and injury, Joseph is not to blame and leaving defensive players no choice but to go low is an issue the league needs to figure out.


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