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Vikings tight end T.J. Hockenson said he is trying to keep his head up about Lions safety Kerby Joseph going low and colliding with Hockenson's right knee during a Dec. 24 play that tore two of his ligaments.

Speaking to reporters Monday for the first time since the injury, Hockenson opened up about the hit that sent him to the operating table. Hockenson said it was jarring to see Rams tight end Tyler Higbee suffer a torn ACL in January when Joseph went low on a hit in a similar fashion.

"I don't think anybody goes out on the field wanting to injure a player like that," Hockenson said. "I'm looking at the light of that and hoping that's not what the intent was to injure a player in that sense. But I think that to have it happen [three] weeks later, I think that's something the league needs to look at."

Hockenson, whose 95 catches led the Vikings last season after signing a four-year, $66 million contract extension, could miss the start of the regular season following Jan. 29 surgery to repair a torn ACL. His surgery was delayed over a month to let the MCL heal.

He twice mentioned a nine-month recovery outlook, which would mean an October comeback, but he also said the Vikings training staff wasn't putting a firm date on his return.

Entering his sixth year in the NFL, Hockenson has appeared in at least 12 games in each of his five seasons. He questioned why the kind of hit that took him out is allowed.

"I wasn't too happy about it," Hockenson said. "That's not a fun one to take. That's not necessarily based on him as a player. I got nothing against him. I've played with him in Detroit, and I understand that's kind of what they expect you to do in the league. But on the same hand, I'd much rather gone down with a concussion for two weeks than to have to go through this for nine months."

"You can't cut [block] outside the tackle box," he added, "doesn't really make sense why these guys are able to go as low as they are. When you're 25 yards downfield looking back at the quarterback and you don't have any awareness, you know?"

Safety Harrison Smith is among NFL defenders who have spoken out recently about the league's evolving rules, including the 2018 targeting rule that tried to legislate helmet-to-helmet hits out of the game. Smith wrote on social media that he didn't like Joseph's hits on Hockenson and Higbee, but "the rules have encouraged more hits like that from the DB position ... most effective way to protect that area of the field without penalty ... I don't like it, either."

Hockenson spent part of his offseason in Nashville, where Vikings trainers Tyler Williams and Matt Duhamel visited his rehab with other trainers. As players reported Monday for voluntary workouts at TCO Performance Center, Hockenson said he hopes he's through the toughest part of his recovery.

"Negative thoughts creep in all the time; that's just human nature," he said. "But in order for you to come out of things like this, you have to go through the dark times and be able to come back and see the light. That's kind of what I've done. Those first few days, few weeks where you can't do anything. You're [bedridden] basically. That's a dark time, you know?"

Hockenson said he's just getting back into the weight room with squats and balances, focusing on "gaining that muscle back and the stabilization of the knee."

"You start to see the light," he said, "and realize this is temporary and we'll be back from this."

Hockenson wouldn't rule out a Week 1 return, although the Vikings may have to lean on tight ends Josh Oliver and Johnny Mundt to begin the season.

"Daily improvement," head coach Kevin O'Connell said Monday. "That's all we're really hunting right now."

Right tackle Brian O'Neill can sympathize with Hockenson after O'Neill recovered from a torn Achilles that was suffered near the end of the 2022 regular season.

"I'm sure he still feels like he's been going every single day since the end of the season," O'Neill said. "Having a full offseason and being completely healthy, you don't take it for granted now."