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Added Time Making T.J. Hockenson's Growth in Offense No Sweat

EAGAN, Minn. — A sweat droplet seemed to fall from T.J. Hockenson at every other word.

He had just wrapped his first training camp practice as a Viking on Wednesday on the kind of swampy day that NFL teams based further south used to try to escape by setting up camps in the Upper Midwest.

The Iowa native now lives and trains in Nashville, Tennessee, "so I've kind of been training in this for the last month and a half, so coming out here, obviously we're a little more intense than those, but it was good. It's a good first day. You've got to be optimistic because it's going to get cooler, so that's the nice part about it."

Drip, drip, drop, more sweat fell.

Even if prepared for the heat through year-round conditioning, Hockenson said the hot days are probably his least favorite aspect of a training camp.

"I've got to go in there and chug about a gallon of water to get ready for tomorrow, but it's great. I really do enjoy it," Hockenson said. "The longer you're in it, the more you realize you appreciate it and what a great game this is and what a great life we live."

Hockenson arrived in Minnesota last fall via a rare midseason trade with division-rival Detroit. He's embraced everything — from learning the Vikings offense on the fly to attending Wild playoff games with teammates and a recent Twins game where his first pitch on SKOL Night was "just a bit outside," to borrow from Bob Uecker's Harry Doyle character in Major League.

The bonding opportunity with teammates, he said, is his favorite part of training camp. It's an appreciation that has grown through his first four-plus seasons.

"You look back at it, and it's a thing you're going to miss. It's one of those things where you get to be with the guys 24-7. Just the camaraderie, the brotherhood, it's incredible," Hockenson said. "No distractions outside of anything, just hanging with the boys. You get done here, you go study at the hotel with them, and that's something you'll always miss when you're done playing, so that's just something you take in, especially me going into my fifth year and kind of learning that.

"When you're in your first few years, you're like, 'This sucks,' but now it's incredible to be here with the guys and enjoy these moments," he added.

Drip, drip, drop, more sweat fell.

After catching 60 passes for 519 yards and three touchdowns in his first 10 games with the Vikings, Hockenson caught 10 passes for 129 yards and six first downs on 11 targets in Minnesota's playoff game against the New York Giants.

For many, the final image of the 2022 season was a short throw to Hockenson by Kirk Cousins as the Giants quickly created pressure on a fourth-and-8. The play gained 3 as the air left a lively U.S. Bank Stadium.

As the NFL calendar is flipping, there's plenty of optimism toward Hockenson's role in the 2023 Vikings offense. After all, he caught nine passes for 70 yards on nine targets in his debut with the team last November, helping Minnesota's win at Washington.

Offensive Coordinator Wes Phillips, who has previous experience coaching tight ends, said Hockenson's ability to "kind of digest and learn our system" and "have the production that he did" was "really impressive."

"But obviously going through an offseason, getting a true install where we have time to really take the time and detail out each concept in the run game and pass game, his talent is only going to show that much more," Phillips said.

Given Hockenson's volume of targets and production last season when he went to his second Pro Bowl, it's been no surprise to see footballs flowing toward him the way the sweat droplets kept streaming.

View the best photos of Vikings TE T.J. Hockenson from the 2022 season.

He's made the catches so far look like no sweat and wants the same to be the case for any task within the offense this fall.

"Last year, I knew what I was doing, but to learn the concepts is a little different, especially when we're doing the motions and shifting and all the things we do," Hockenson said. "K.O. (Head Coach Kevin O'Connell) likes to put me at different positions, which is fantastic. I love that. I knew what I was doing, but now just trying to learn the whole thing and understand that you're a piece of the puzzle and to be able to attack each play like that where you can help a guy or a guy can help you, and depending on leverages, depending on defense, there's a lot of different ways to attack it.

"It's been great to be able to be here from Day 1 in OTAs and go through that, take a month off, come back and have it refreshed," he added. "It's like learning a second language, and now it's finally starting to become a primary, which is nice."