T.J. Hockenson: Matt Nelson ‘Ready for Challenge’ up Front

Matt Nelson Khalil Mack

Getty Lions offensive lineman Matt Nelson blocks Khalil Mack in Chicago.

The NFL is always full of curveballs, and that’s just what the Detroit Lions could be handed before their Week 1 game against the San Francisco 49ers.

Taylor Decker’s health took a turn on Thursday, and when it was revealed that he would be missing practice with the finger injury that kept him limited earlier in the week. That news means that it feels unlikely that Decker is going to play on Sunday at left tackle, meaning the Lions’ strong line figures to see its first hint of adversity.

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No worries if you’re the team, however, because it’s next man up and that next man is someone the team feels as if they can count on. Speaking with the media on Thursday, September 9 in an interview posted to DetroitLions.com, tight end T.J. Hockenson admitted that while Decker would be a key loss, he has faith in Matt Nelson stepping up and playing a big role.

“Taylor (Decker’s) one of those guys, he’s been a captain the last few years. Just a guy you feed off of. On the same hand, it’s next man up. Matt Nelson’s a good player. He’s been in it with us the last couple years so I think he’s ready for a challenge,” Hockenson told the media. “Football is one of those games where it’s next man up and you can’t really think about stuff like that. You have to move on. Taylor’s a great player and we’d love to have him. When he comes back whenever that is we’re going to keep rolling. That’s not something you can really think about or hang your hat on.”

Not only might the Lions have questions about Nelson, but Penei Sewell as well. Hockenson isn’t worried about any of that, or his own role for that matter.

“Rookie left tackle, but (Penei Sewell’s) a baller. Matt Nelson blocked Khalil Mack last year so I think we’ll be alright up front. I’m not really worried about it. Yeah I’m going to be blocking, but that was already a given,” Hockenson said.

Whatever changes occur, Hockenson seems more than ready, and has faith in the players set to play, no matter who it is or where they line up.

Matt Nelson Earned His Keep With 2020 Work on Khalil Mack

Who is Nelson exactly for those who still might not know? Only a converted defensive lineman that now plays offensive tackle that earned his way back on the roster for 2021. Nelson entered the game when the Lions lost Tyrell Crosby to injury in December against the Chicago Bears. He played right tackle in an emergency setting during the game and impressed in a big way, keeping Mack completely off the stat sheet one afternoon. That’s not easy work to do.

As a result of this performance, Nelson received some major love from Good Morning Football at the time and his name was suddenly very much on the radar when casual fans could likely have not even realized he was on the team prior to the game.

Detroit’s offensive line was hot and cold last season, but it’s nice to see someone like Nelson start to play hard and come into his own in a new role. As many have pointed out, this simply proves the great job Hank Fraley has done within Detroit’s offensive line the last few seasons. Fraley stuck around this offseason to help mold Nelson and others, and he was able to make the team again.

Nelson stepped up against all odds in a situation not many would have expected him to excel in last year, which was a testament to his own preparation as well as the team’s coaching. For that reason, he could be ready for this new challenge.

Nelson’s Stats and Highlights

Coming from Iowa, Nelson was a starter along the team’s defensive line. He was pretty solid statistically, putting up 111 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, 9 sacks, 9 pass break-ups, and 1 forced fumble. Considering his 6-8 size, He had the frame to be a success in the NFL somewhere, and the Lions picked him up as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and began transitioning him to the offensive side of the ball. He bulked up a bit and as played a key role for the Lions’ practice squad at times before being elevated to the roster.

Here’s some highlights of Nelson playing defensive line in college:

Matt Nelson (Iowa DL) vs. Penn State 2018Iowa DL Matt Nelson takes on Penn State2018-12-31T12:33:09Z

Obviously, Nelson’s claim to fame to this point in the pros will be wiping out one of the best pass rushers in the NFL when nobody thought he was capable of the feat and remaining in play to be a key part of the team’s offensive line moving forward. That should give him some confidence for this particular game if he is called upon.

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