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Hockenson now dealing with back stiffness as Vikings and Cardinals practice together

EAGAN, Minn. (AP) — T.J. Hockenson’s second season with the Vikings might require a similar accelerated ramp-up as his first season in Minnesota.

Hockenson, who had 60 catches for 519 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games with the Vikings following his mid-season trade from Detroit, has missed much of Minnesota’s training camp while dealing with an ear infection that disrupted his equilibrium.

Recovered from the ear infection, Hockenson was also out of team drills on Wednesday as the Vikings and Arizona Cardinals conducted joint practices. This time, Minnesota coach Kevin O’Connell said back stiffness is keeping out Hockenson, the big tight end who was second only to All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson in catches for the Vikings after his arrival in Week 8 last season.

“Whether he could have gone or not, if it was a game week, that’s a different story,” O’Connell said. “But with a joint practice, I wanted to make sure that we just kept his conditioning going. That’s something that he’ll work through, and we may possibly have him tomorrow, or be ready to roll as we start our Tampa prep next week.”

Hockenson participated in individual and position drills on Wednesday. But when the two teams came together for full work, Hockenson did conditioning drills on the side. O’Connell said the back stiffness popped up “very recently.”

“We’re at that time now where we just want to be smart with guys we know we’re going to be reliant on, and make sure that their preparation for Sept. 10th is what we want,” O’Connell added.

Hockenson embarks on his first full season in Minnesota. He’s beginning the final season of the rookie contract he signed after the Lions made him the No. 8 overall selection in the 2019 draft.

Hockenson is due $9.4 million on the fifth-year option that was picked up by Detroit before it traded him and a pair of late-round picks to the Vikings for second- and third-round draft picks.

Hockenson was asked on Monday if his absence is contract related and told reporters, “that’s not my focus.”

O’Connell said Wednesday his dialogue with Hockenson has been focused on the tight end’s health.

“He has not indicated to me one time that it is about (his contract) and, look, we would love to have him in every drill, just like Brian O’Neill since the start of training camp, but we’ve got to have a process where we get these guys healthy, feeling really good to go compete, as we head towards the season,” O’Connell said.

O’Neill, the No. 1 right tackle, returned to full practice on Wednesday for the first time since Achilles surgery in January.

O’Connell also said rookie receiver Jordan Addison has fully cleared concussion testing. Meanwhile, second-year safety Lewis Cine was out because of a “low-grade, soft-tissue thing,” according to O’Connell.

As the teams convened for 11-on-11 drills, Arizona’s No. 1 tight end, Zach Ertz, was also an observer, along with quarterback Kyler Murray. Ertz was activated off the physically unable to perform list last week following his knee surgery in November. Murray, also coming off knee surgery, will need to be activated from the PUP list when the team cuts to its 53-man roster next week or he’ll be forced to miss the first four weeks of the season.

Perhaps it’s no surprise the Cardinals’ first-team offense struggled against Minnesota on Wednesday.

Along with Ertz and Murray sitting out, left tackle D.J. Humphries and center Hjalte Froholdt were missing. The two remained in Arizona for the births of their children and should join the team later this week.

A familiar heat greeted the Cardinals for Wednesday’s joint practice, but the mid-to-upper 90s heat was accompanied by stifling humidity that brought the heat indexes into the 100s. The teams agreed to move practice time an hour earlier because of the heat.

“It feels like spring break to me,” Arizona coach Jonathan Gannon joked. “It’s nice out. (O’Connell is) the one that wanted to move it back. He’s afraid of the heat.”

Gannon’s players certainly felt the difference with the humidity.

“It’s muggy,” linebacker Josh Woods said. “The air is thick. As soon as you walk outside, you just start sweating. Clothes sticking to you, it’s just bad. It’s bad. I’ll take 110 in Arizona over this any day.”

Woods added: “I think we kind of let the weather dictate how we were attacking our work today. I’m excited to see how we bounce back tomorrow.”

Cornerback Marco Wilson, linebacker Dennis Gardeck and quarterback Jeff Driskel didn’t practice for the Cardinals.

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