Perhaps no Detroit Lions player will benefit more from Ben Johnson's ascension to offensive coordinator than tight end T.J. Hockenson.
Johnson was a quality control coach for Detroit in 2019 when the club selected Hockenson in the first round, and the two would sit together in meetings. Johnson then became the tight end's coach in 2020. Now the offensive coordinator, Johnson brings insight into how to expand the tight end's role in the offense in 2022.
"Ben has seen me do routes that most guys or coordinators wouldn't think that a tight end could do," Hockenson said Tuesday, via the team's official website. "Splitting me out, running a comeback, splitting me out and running things that really only wide receivers do.
"He's seen me run it and he's seen me run it well. Just being able to have that in his head -- we're already seeing it now (with me) being split out and doing some things and showing what we got."
The Lions exercised Hockenson's fifth-year option earlier this offseason, putting him under contract through 2023. As such, the former first-round pick isn't worried about a long-term deal just yet. Instead, he's focusing on improving in Year 4.
"Money is one thing, but when it hits the bank account doesn't really matter to me," he said. "I just want to make this place a winning program, and kind of build that. The money will fall where it may, and the contract will fall where it may. I just want to win. That's really my whole goal with everything is winning. All that other stuff won't affect me."
After a Pro Bowl 2020 campaign, Hockenson missed five games in 2021, netting just 61 catches for 583 yards and four touchdowns. Those numbers belie the physical talents the 24-year-old possesses.
With the Lions adding to their wide receiver corps this offseason, including the signing of D.J. Chark and drafting of Jameson Williams, to go along with burgeoning Amon-Ra St. Brown, it should open things up for Hockenson.
"When we ask him to win, can he win?" head coach Dan Campbell said of Hockenson. "Because I think sometimes, when you start thinking about (Travis) Kelce and (Darren) Waller and Kyle Pitts, for a long time, some of those guys are the showcase guy.
"I think what we want is we want T.J. to just go out and win and do what he does (on) third down, criticals, when you need it, when your time's called because we've got St. Brown, we've got Chark, Williams will come along. We've got (Josh) Reynolds, we've got (D'Andre) Swift. So, it's, man, he's a piece of the puzzle and when his number's called, we know he's going to win, and that's a comforting feeling."
On paper, the Lions' offense has improved in Year 2 of the rebuild. Hockenson having a big breakout campaign would go a long way in Detroit morphing into a more pass-heavy attack after focusing on the ground game in 2021. The tight end's expanded use under Johnson could springboard that leap.