Bengals center Hopkins feels ‘really good’

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen, left, celebrates with center Trey Hopkins after throwing a touchdown pass against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)
Caption
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Brandon Allen, left, celebrates with center Trey Hopkins after throwing a touchdown pass against the Houston Texans during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec. 27, 2020, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

Credit: Eric Christian Smith

Credit: Eric Christian Smith

Coming off injury, he says he’ll be ready for opener

CINCINNATI -- Seven months removed from ACL surgery, Cincinnati Bengals center Trey Hopkins remains on track to be ready for the season opener, but he’s eying a potential return to action even sooner.

Hopkins, who tore his ACL in the second half of the 2020 finale, said he is preparing as though he will play Sunday in the preseason finale against the Dolphins, though it remains up in the air whether he or quarterback Joe Burrow will be utilized.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said both Hopkins and Burrow have “checked all the boxes” to be ready to play. Now it’s just a matter of weighing the risks of injury in an exhibition game and the reward of getting some live reps in to knock off the rust before the real games begin.

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“I am preparing as if I’m getting called on to play this preseason game and if I’m not, that’s what it is,” Hopkins said. “But my stance and my preparation has not changed. I’m preparing to be back and be 100 percent and be the Trey Hopkins that I’ve been the past couple years and that is my preparation. That’s really all I control right now so that’s where I’m keeping my mind at. When my number is called and they say No. 66 we need you to go in there, whether that’s Week 1 or Week 8, whenever that is then that’s when I’ll be ready.”

Hopkins said he would still feel comfortable starting the opener even if he doesn’t get into a preseason game. If he does play Sunday, the starters only get in for a series or two anyway, so it wouldn’t make a drastic difference for him.

Last year without preseason games it took only about a quarter to knock off the rust, he noted, but coming off major knee surgery, he doesn’t deny the start to this season could be different.

“Sure (it’s different), but you know what, being in the position I am, it really just puts a premium on the reps that I’m getting here in practice,” Hopkins said. “Like I said, I hadn’t played in the first two preseason games. So, I’ll really, really, really have to make big emphasis on nailing down, my specific techniques and footwork since I haven’t had those reps in practice.”

Hopkins only recently has gotten into the full swing of things in practice, after not participating in 11 on 11 drills early in training camp. He was cleared for full participation before camp, but the team wanted to ease him back into the routine after being limited to rehab work on the side during Organized Team Activities.

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Now, Hopkins said he feels “really good,” but it’s still been a process getting ready.

“I think coming into training camp, I felt comfortable,” Hopkins said. “And, of course, you take those first couple days were like, ‘Oh this doesn’t feel as good as I would have hoped it would feel,’ and it’s been kind of a thing where every day you see what didn’t feel so good the day before, feels a little bit better. Like I said, the training staff has done a great job just monitoring my load as I’ve come back. So early on, we started where I would go a day and then the next day they were kind of take me off and only do individual (work) and kind of alternate like that. That’s how we started camp. So, it gave me a really good opportunity to really push it for a day, feel it, and say, ‘Oh that don’t really feel too great.’ And the next day just, you know, only do individual, really nail down those techniques and things, without having to think about competition against the D-Line and come back the next day and do the same thing over again.”

The veteran center is still doing rehab work first thing in the morning when he arrives at Paul Brown Stadium. He plans to continue that in some manner as the season gets going, after former Bengals guard Clint Boling recommended he keep focusing on strengthening the quad muscles around his knee.

Asked whether he’s more concerned about getting into game fitness again or how his knee will feel in live competition, Hopkins pointed to the latter.

“Conditioning is still something you have to get used to over first couple games,” he said. “The knee is a little more something I’m concerned about. I’m feeling good, I’m confident in the plan that the training staff and coaching staff have in place for me. I’m just preparing every way can to be ready when they call me.”

Hopkins and Burrow are doing everything they can in practice to get back in sync with the snaps, but with the guard spots still undecided, Hopkins will be interested to see who will be playing to his left and right.

Veterans Quinton Spain and Xavier Su’a-Filo seem to have the edge but rookies Jackson Carman and D’Ante Smith are among the contenders, along with third-year player Mike Jordan. Hopkins said he doesn’t have a preference.

“In either circumstance, it’ll definitely be an adjustment,” Hopkins said. “Q and X definitely have a lot more snaps than a rookie would have. That’s why the onus is on the rookies to really, really have your stuff straight. If you get put in position as a rookie when you’re starting, obviously, you’ve shown that to your coaches, you’ve shown that to your teammates that you have what it takes to be out there. So it wouldn’t be a huge concern.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Dolphins at Bengals, 4 p.m., CBS, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7