Vikings thriving on Dobbs-Hockenson connection founded in summer throwing sessions

Published 8:46 am Thursday, November 16, 2023

EAGAN — T.J. Hockenson has found a summer home in Tennessee, where a small group of NFL players spearheaded by his close friend tight end George Kittle train together between seasons.

The sessions take place at Kittle’s 75-acre property outside of Nashville, where there’s a workout facility in a remodeled barn and a football field in the San Francisco 49ers star’s yard. The group brings in their own physical therapists and speed and strength specialists, too.

Sometimes, Joshua Dobbs joins them.

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“There’s not a ton of quarterbacks down there, so whenever we could throw with Josh we were all hyped and excited,” Hockenson said. “It was one of those days we weren’t going to miss, because he’s got a great ball and he’s a great quarterback and he’s a great dude.”

Little did he know this casual connection made in recent summers would form the foundation for one of the NFL’s most productive passing duos.

Over two games with the Minnesota Vikings, Dobbs has targeted Hockenson 27 times. Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (30) is the only player in the league with more over that span, according to Sportradar data. More than 40% of Minnesota’s passes went to Hockenson in Weeks 9-10, the third-highest rate in the NFL.

“It’s not like we planned on doing that in a game,” said Dobbs, who played in college at Tennessee and also has an offseason home in the state. “But it was cool to have banked reps and banked communication with somebody, right? Especially one of your best playmakers on offense. Have reps with him, have a feel for how he gets in and out of routes. Obviously, there’s a matchup issue, and it shows.”

Hockenson outgained New Orleans by himself with 128 receiving yards in the first half last week, when the Vikings beat the Saints 27-19 for their fifth straight victory.

“The ball keeps coming to you, and I was reading the defenses real well and just feeling it a little bit. So that was a blast,” said Hockenson, who played through two injured ribs.

There was no better example of their synergy than the third-and-5 play early in the second quarter against the Saints. Dobbs outran two pass rushers to his right to avoid a sack before firing an off-balance throw to Hockenson.

The two-time Pro Bowl tight end freelanced to find open space once Dobbs left the pocket, made a leaping catch and plowed forward rugby-style through the defense for a 24-yard gain. The Vikings scored the tiebreaking touchdown two plays later.

“With him in the backfield you can’t think the play’s over,” said Hockenson, who leads all NFL tight ends with 681 receiving yards. “If he doesn’t get you on the first time or the second time, he’s going to move around. You just try to find an open area and beat your guy. It’s a little like street ball.”

The Vikings (6-4) play Sunday night at Denver, when wide receiver Justin Jefferson could rejoin the offense and give Dobbs even more to work with. Jefferson, who has missed the past five games with a hamstring strain, will continue to ramp up his intensity this week before the Vikings consider whether or not to activate him.

Wide receiver K.J. Osborn, who was held out against the Saints because of a concussion, has cleared the protocol and was a full participant Wednesday in practice.

“I’ve been around some talented offenses, but with the guys we have here rolling, man, it’s definitely hard to top the guys in this locker room,” Dobbs said. “That’s what’s so exciting.”