Arizona Cardinals have a plan for DeAndre Hopkins' return

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Even with training camp a month away, the Arizona Cardinals have a game plan for wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopkins, who is coming off an MCL injury suffered in December, will be brought along slowly during the start of training camp after the Cardinals were "really cautious" with him during their offseason programs. Because Hopkins will not play during the first six weeks of the regular season while serving a suspension for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing drug policy, the Cardinals must take a targeted approach to his recovery.

"We're trying to come up with a great plan that rolls right up to Week 7 of the season and make sure we're smart about it," Kingsbury said. "But, the main thing I don't want him to do is ramp up, make a bunch of plays in training camp, do this, practice really hard and then six weeks he's not doing anything."

Arizona will put Hopkins on a pitch count of sorts. He won't practice every day and they'll be careful with which days he does. The plan might include Hopkins practicing for a couple of days and then sitting out or a similar routine.

Kingsbury wants to minimize Hopkins' reps while making sure he gets some quality field and speed time.

Hopkins was injured in Week 14 against the Los Angeles Rams on Monday Night Football, an injury which eventually led to surgery. The receiver had 42 catches for 572 yards and eight touchdowns in 10 games with the Cardinals last season.

There's a precedent for a player returning after injury to a shortened season because of a suspension. In 2018, former New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman was suspended the first four games of the season after missing the previous season with a torn ACL. He went on to lead the Patriots with 850 receiving yards that year.

Hopkins, who's entering his 10th season, was running at the start of minicamp practices without a brace on. He seemed to be in good spirits talking to right tackle Kelvin Beachum and a few coaches who were watching practice as guests. Hopkins also went through a few individual drills off to the side under the watchful eye of a trainer.

Marquise Brown, who joined the Cardinals in a trade with the Baltimore Ravens on the first day of the NFL draft, doesn’t know what to expect playing without Hopkins because he doesn't have anything to base it on. Brown said he doesn't know what his role will be without Hopkins but his goal is to "execute."

"Wherever I'm at, that's what I'm gonna do," Brown said.

But Brown does know one thing: "When he's back on the field, it's gonna be great." Playing alongside Hopkins will be "very fun and exciting," Brown added.

The two have talked a bit since Brown was acquired. They celebrated their birthdays two days apart -- Brown's is June 4 and Hopkins' is June 6 -- so that, Brown said, "was pretty cool."

Hopkins' presence on the field has been paramount to the success of the Cardinals and quarterback Kyler Murray. With Hopkins on the field the past two seasons, Murray has a total QBR of 61, a yards per attempt of 7.1 and completes 69% of his passes. Without him those numbers drop to 49, 6.7 and 64%.

"We have a good plan," Kingsbury said. "But, he looks great. He's excited. I know he's frustrated he can't play the first six but like I've said before, I think we'll get the best version of them those last 11 and [it'll] be fun to watch."