LANDOVER, Md. -- T.J. Hockenson put himself through one final set of drills Saturday night before heading to bed. He wasn't working on route running or blocking technique.
No, Hockenson just wanted to "at least know what I was doing" in his first game since the Minnesota Vikings acquired him in a trade-deadline deal with the Detroit Lions, he said. So he met at the team hotel with Vikings practice squad quarterback David Blough, his teammate for parts of three seasons in Detroit, to take a final run through the call sheet the Vikings would use Sunday against the Washington Commanders.
"He was like, 'You're ready, dude. You got this,'" Hockenson said.
Was he ever. Hockenson started Sunday's game against the Commanders, converted a third down with a 19-yard reception on the third play -- the longest gain by one of their tight ends this season -- and went on to catch all nine passes thrown his way in the Vikings' 20-17 victory over the Commanders.
"It took me about four months to learn [this offense]," quarterback Kirk Cousins said with a laugh. "He did it in 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 [and] gave me a sense of ease as a result. ... He helped us today."
General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah acquired Hockenson for a number of short- and long-term reasons. From an immediate perspective, however, it was clear the Vikings needed help at the position. They entered the week with the NFL's lowest average of yards per reception among tight ends (7.3). The only question was how quickly they could get Hockenson involved.
Once the trade was completed last Tuesday, Hockenson packed a bag in Detroit and made it to the Vikings' practice facility in Eagan, Minnesota, at about 9:30 p.m. By 10 p.m., the Vikings had issued him a team iPad, and he went to work learning an offense that flummoxed Cousins and many other veterans when they first encountered it this spring.
Blough, who spent training camp with Hockenson and the Lions, helped translate similar concepts into the Vikings' terminology. The two met before and after each practice, according to Cousins. The rest of the time, Hockenson worked with tight ends coach Brian Angelichio to ensure a working knowledge of all the concepts that would be involved in the game plan.
"We did not really dumb anything down," coach Kevin O'Connell said. "We didn’t have a separate offense when T.J. was in there. I am amazed at how prepared he was 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 just get with him and kind of be at his side for five, six days in a row in hopes of having him ready to go."
Along the way, Hockenson also recorded the Vikings' primary calls as a voice note on his phone so he could put himself through drills when he wasn't with Blough or Angelichio.
"I just wanted to listen back," Hockenson said, "so that when it came out of Kirk's mouth, I wanted it to be second nature so I didn't have to think about it. Really it wasn't too bad today [but] the last four days, it's been a grind."
Hockenson's nine catches Sunday were the most by a Vikings tight end in one game since Week 15 of the 2018 season. He now owns the Vikings' longest (19 yards) and second-longest (17) catches by a tight end this season. He is already tied for second among Vikings tight ends with five catches for first downs. All told, he played 60 of 66 snaps (91%), the most in one game by a Vikings tight end this season.
"I tried my hardest this week to learn everything," he said. "I really did. That's kind of the standard I put on myself, to be a guy that if they needed me, I would at least know what I was doing. That was a big emphasis for me this week, to be ready when my number was called, and I was able to do that."