Hockenson isn’t only new Viking excited about worst-to-first move

Anthony Souffle, Star Tribune/Star Tribune/TNS

Former Lions tight end T.J. Hockenson doesn't have exclusive rights in the Vikings locker room when it comes to feeling like Andy Dufresne the moment he had crawled 500 yards through a sewage pipe, dropped to his knees and was made clean in that famous prison escape scene from "The Shawshank Redemption."

"I'm a Houston guy, born and raised; the Texans have been my team since I was a kid; it was a dream come true to be drafted by the Texans; my family is still in Houston; I hate the cold," said Ross Blacklock, the former Texans defensive lineman who was traded to the Vikings 12 days before this year's season opener.

One could sense a "but" coming at that point as Blacklock explained his level of excitement over being 6-1 in a soon-to-be-frozen tundra versus 1-6-1 just 18 miles from his hometown of Missouri City, Texas.

"But I would live in the middle of a blizzard if it means winning games like this," he said. "That's how big a change it is from losing to what we got going on here, and how it could get even better."

Blacklock, a 24-year-old second-round pick of the Texans in 2020, could be mired in Houston's AFC-worst start – only slightly better than the Lions' NFL-worst 1-6 record — after experiencing utterly dysfunctional 4-12 and 4-13 seasons the past two years. Instead, he arrived in Minnesota Aug. 30 for a sixth-round draft pick and could play his biggest role of the season Sunday at Washington.

Blacklock expects to line up with the first unit in the base 3-4 defense, with starter Dalvin Tomlinson unable to play because of a calf injury. Blacklock is coming off back-to-back games in which he posted season highs for defensive snaps (19) and percentage of defensive snaps played (24%).

"I feel I fit in smooth here," he said. "There's just a better vibe here. I could tell the day I got here the energy was different. Coaching-wise, attention to details, the players, it's just been real comfortable."

Blacklock played 29 games with three starts in two seasons under three head coaches in Houston. A fourth head coach, Lovie Smith, arrived after last season and was so eager to unload him that he threw in a seventh-round pick as part of the deal with the Vikings.

"My D-line buddies back there – Roy Lopes, Maliek Collins, all those guys – are probably jealous of me," Blacklock said. "I talk to them every week. I know what they're going through. It's a sick feeling going to work every day, practicing hard, continuing to hit and grind your body and not get results on Sundays."

Last year was even more difficult because standing on the Texans sideline doing nothing was Deshaun Watson, one of the league's best players. He was inactive all season as he faced more than 20 accusations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions. Watson was traded to Cleveland in the offseason and is nearing the end of an 11-game league suspension.

"It was hard for us knowing how much we were struggling and how much we needed him," Blacklock said. "It was just unfortunate the situation he was put in and have to deal with that. Deshaun's a great dude. I don't know the ins and outs. Only he would. But as far as being in the locker room with him every day, knowing him as a person, he's a great guy. I hope he does well in Cleveland."

The key difference between Houston and Minnesota runs deeper than personnel, Blacklock said.

"In Houston, we always found ways to lose," he said. "Up here, it's the complete opposite. We always find a way to win, which is the difference between winners and losers in this league."