Hendon Hooker [608x342]
Hendon Hooker [608x342] (Credit: Carlos Osorio/Associated Press)

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- A smile crept across the face of Hendon Hooker as he strolled off the field at the Detroit Lions practice facility following Day 2 of mandatory minicamp practice while chatting with receiver Amon-Ra St. Brown.

After experiencing a "redshirt" rookie season where he recovered from a torn ACL that he suffered while at Tennessee, the second-year quarterback is just happy to be amongst the squad -- even while experiencing a steep learning curve of what it takes to run an NFL offense.

"I'm just learning these lessons as I go," Hooker told ESPN following Wednesday's practice. "I'm going to fail some, I'm going to pass some. But it's all about just learning and banking these reps."

Hooker didn't log any game action in 2023, with limited practice reps, as veteran QB Jared Goff guided the franchise to its first NFC Championship Game appearance since 1991.

Coach Dan Campbell says Hooker needs to "take a step up" to fully secure the No. 2 QB spot from Nate Sudfeld.

When the Lions return for training camp in late July, the expectation is for Hooker to be more comfortable and have a grasp for the entire offense after putting him through a rigorous routine in the spring, which included numerous game-type situations.

"We need to feel like by the end of camp this guy can run this offense," Campbell said. "He's somebody that we know we can play the game a certain way. We know he's going to be able to process the information. He's going to get us in the right play and he's going to keep the ship afloat. That's it.

"We don't need him to come in and win a game. You just want to feel like, 'all right.' So obviously, he's going to need to take another step up."

During this offseason, the Lions established Goff as their guy, signing him to a four-year, $212 million contract extension that locks him down through 2028.

However, Campbell and the staff are committed to developing Hooker, who has displayed his big arm strength in minicamp. But he has also been inaccurate at times, with overthrows and off-target passes.

Goff has been impressed with Hooker's work ethic and commitment to becoming better.

"He's done a good job. He really has. He's soaked it all up and has learned, has improved," Goff said. "He's gotten better every day, and it's been fun to watch."

Throughout minicamp, Hooker has taken numerous second-team reps while learning from Goff, quarterbacks coach Mark Brunell and offensive coordinator Ben Johnson.

Hooker was also spotted going over mechanics during a break in practice with assistant quarterbacks coach J.T. Barrett on Wednesday as they're stressing the importance of slowing down in certain situations.

"They're like, 'Hey, just relax and have fun,'" Hooker said. "Sometimes I just get out there thinking too much and thinking about everyone else's responsibilities when I can just play fast."

Even while competing against Hooker, Sudfeld is impressed with his natural ability to play the position.

Sudfeld said he has witnessed "glimpses in a lot of areas of him being really good" as Hooker is still trying to find the groove that helped him emerge as a Heisman Trophy front-runner at Tennessee before being injured.

Hooker faces little pressure from the franchise other than to get better behind Goff, despite being the Lions' highest-drafted QB since Matthew Stafford went first overall in 2009.

A win for Hooker this offseason through his eyes would be to continue to gain confidence while mastering the offense.

"Just getting back into the rhythm of moving off my spot and completing balls and just playing free, that's what I'm trying to get to," Hooker said. "Just playing free like I was at Tennessee."