Insiders Cast Doubt on TJ Hockenson’s Ear Infection

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez - Star Tribune

On Monday, Minnesota Vikings tight end, TJ Hockenson, told media that his absence on the field at training camp has been due to an ear infection he has been working through. He looked healthy in the interview but neither he nor the Vikings provided a timeline for his return. That means his presence for joint practices with the Tennessee Titans on Wednesday and Thursday is far from guaranteed.

Local Vikings insiders question TJ Hockenson’s motivation for missing practice

But on Tuesday, local insiders Darren “Doogie” Wolfson, Judd Zulgad and Phil Mackey — all of which have been reporters in the Twin Cities for decades and currently cover the Vikings up close and personal with credentialed access — openly questioned the truth in Hockenson’s ear infection story, on their Minnesota Sports w/Mackey & Judd podcast.

According to Wolfson, Hockenson has been golfing regularly even as he evades practice. Apparently, his “ear infection” isn’t affecting his equilibrium on the golf course. The TJ talk begins at the 04:00 minute mark. I transcribed the conversation and added my analysis below.

WOLFSON: “I don’t know it was published or not judged but it was known that he was battling or said to be battling some sort of ear infection is equilibrium thrown off but he has been able to do some stuff he has been able to play golf he’s very passionate about playing golf it’s not like he hasn’t played some golf in recent weeks…”

MACKEY: “Wait, so he’s got golfing but not practicing?”

WOLFSON: Well, he has been doing some stuff. Like, he participated in yesterday’s walk through but it seems like the contact…

MACKEY: Oh, my contract is sore… I mean I have an ear infection.”

Minnesota Sports w/Mackey & Judd (SKOR North)

All three insiders agree that it’s possible (maybe even likely) that Hockenson is battling some sort of infection but they do not believe his absence from Vikings training camp is as much to do with an illness as it is to do with his contract not yet being extended.

JUDD: “I don’t doubt he’s got some type of infection.”

WOLFSON: “I don’t doubt that either.”

JUDD: “But I am saying, when you said he’s on the links playing 18, is, ‘are you sure about that?’ What’s your sense, recklessly speculating in a very safe place, cause I’ve gone here before… I just don’t buy [that] he’s going to topple over if he’s all of a sudden in one set of drills, when he’s been in another set of drills?”

WOLFSON: “Judd, you and I are in complete agreement. There is something going on there, contract related. Because the two sides have been talking, maybe at this point — now this is me going down the reckless speculation path more than informed information — but is it possible that TJ thought the deal would be done by now, thus is reluctant to take part in all these drills; with the out being, ‘OK my equilibrium, I’m a little thrown off. Yeah, I can do some stuff but I just can’t necessarily do it all.’ So, I’m with you, Judd. My tentacles have been up. There’s something going on there from a contractual standpoint.”

Minnesota Sports w/Mackey & Judd (SKOR North)
When/Why will Hockenson return?

Doogie & the gang continually go back throughout their conversation and attempt to give Hockenson the benefit of the doubt. But they keep coming back to their cynicism of the situation. Judd, who takes part in every media scrum involving the Vikings, points to O’Connell’s frustration earlier in the week, when asked about TJ’s status.

Wolfson even questioned Hockenson’s body language and lack of eye contact in the video at the top of this blog, where he tells reporters about his alleged ear infection, also noting the vague return timeline for an illness that should have a more concrete estimation to getting back on the field.

JUDD: “When O’Connell was asked [about Hockenson’s status by Kevin Siefert – ESPN] on Saturday, O’Connell sounded very much like a guy who was expected him to be back on the field for the joint practices; which leads me to believe that O’Connell is somewhat frustrated by this entire thing, because he’s a football coach and they get frustrated. But yeah, it just feels like there’s a lot more here than than a Q-Tip can cure. Plus, when you guys asked him about what they’re going to do, [Hockenson] had no response. He’s like, ‘yeah, yeah, we’ll just wait it out’.”

WOLFSON: “Well, and if you watch the video [ABOVE]… again, this is reckless speculation. I’m going down a slippery slope. But if you look at [Hockenson’s] body language… his lack of eye contact, at times. It just… it makes you wonder even more. I’m just saying, like, I have a hard time believing — maybe more so an opinion, not fact — but believing that there is zero to do with the contract situation; him not fully taking part in practice. We did ask him, ‘hey will you be a full participant in these joint practices starting Wednesday against Tennessee?’ He said, ‘to be determined’, essentially, in paraphrasing. But, he did not have the answer to that question. How would he not know on Monday afternoon if he would be able to take part on Wednesday morning?”

Minnesota Sports w/Mackey & Judd (SKOR North)

There’s no doubt, after listening to the conversation between these local insiders, that the Minnesota Vikings and TJ Hockenson are working out his contract. It’s also clear that those negotiations have just as much to do with his absence from training camp as any ear infection he may or may not be battling.

If he has his new contract in-hand by the time Wednesday’s practice rolls around, I expect TJ to be a full participant. If not, his “ear infection” probably keeps him from taking part. Either way, it’s unlikely we see him or any other important starters participate in any of the Vikings’ three preseason games.

Eric Strack | Minnesota Sports Fan

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