Hockenson was able to catch up quickly and was an integral component of the Vikings strategy.
On Tuesday that day, the Vikings made two draft selections to the Lions to purchase Hockenson. Five long, mentally exhausting days later, was he, the team’s leader in receptions during a comeback victory against the Commanders of Washington. Hockenson played in almost every game and was the focal point of the Vikings offensive attack on Sunday, taking in all nine targets that were thrown at him for 70 yards, which is the highest number for any Minnesota tight end in the entire season.
A lot of effort went to get the Vikings new player prepared for the game. With just a few days to become proficient in a new offense, it demanded a lot of commitment from Hockenson as well as a few others, from the moment the time he arrived on the ground in Minnesota in the evening of Tuesday. He spent plenty in time Vikings the tight end coach Brian Angelichio and third-string quarterback David Blough, a former player of his in Detroit throughout the week. With them in the lead, Hockenson took a crash course in Kevin O’Connell’s offense . He scored a perfect score on his first test Sunday.
“Can’t say enough about what T.J. Hockenson did this week to learn this system,” Kirk Cousins said. “Took me about four months to learn it; he did it like four days, so he’s kind of making me look bad. Not one time in the huddle did I feel like he was looking at me like he didn’t know what to do. Just very much on top of it. Gave me a sense of ease as a result.”
There was no way to determine the expectations of Hockenson during his debut game for the Vikings. O’Connell’s offense is an intricate one. That’s what we’ve been told by Cousins, Adam Thielen, as well as other Vikings players throughout the course of this season. There was plenty to be learned. In the context of time were there any realistic chances to expect Hockenson to play a significant part in the game?
In the end, it was.
Hockenson was on the field as the only tight end in the 11-person squad on the opening game’s opening play, and he was full-time all day. He snagged a 19-yard touchdown pass across the middle of the field on the Vikings first third-down opportunity, demonstrating his size and athleticism which earned him a top 10 selection in the 2019 draft and an NFL Pro Bowler in 2020.
Hockenson was also credited with an 18-yard touchdown in the second quarter and a 13 yarder in the third quarter. Five of his catches were for first downs, with three of them came from third-down. The nine-yard run was within the red zone third and 4 during the 4th quarter which led to the Vikings the game-winning field goal.
Except for one instance where Hockenson didn’t get the attention of the defensive back who was blitzing, which led to a sack there was nothing to suggest Hockenson was new in the squad. Hockenson appeared comfortable in the field and appeared as if he’d played with the Vikings throughout the season.
“He deserves all the credit, both him and Brian Angelichio, the tight ends coach, they spent a lot of time together over the last five days, getting him ready to play,” O’Connell stated. “We did not really make any changes and there wasn’t a separate offense while T.J. was in there. I’m surprised by the level of preparation he had to play.
“I think it’s a testament to his work ethic, his ability to retain a lot of information, and then obviously the coaching by Brian to get with him and kind of be at his side five, six days in a row in hopes of having him ready to go. You could feel his presence on the field. It’s a big-time addition that Kwesi (Adofo-Mensah) and his staff went and got us.”