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Texans see growth and greatness in receiver DeAndre Hopkins

HOUSTON -- There's a honeymoon period between DeAndre Hopkins and his Houston Texans teammates, a time when they haven't practiced much together yet, and the teammate isn't yet accustomed to seeing Hopkins do something insane to catch the football.

Contortions, dives, one-handed grabs. At first, his teammates can't help but marvel.

Take cornerback A.J. Bouye, who was an undrafted rookie the same year Hopkins was a first-round draft pick and made it his mission to follow Hopkins around to see if he was as good as people said. He was.

Or practice squad running back Darryl Richardson, who googled Hopkins' catches after watching his new teammate in a practice.

Or rookie receiver Keith Mumphery, who jumped out of his seat even before they were teammates when he saw Hopkins' one-handed grab against the Giants last year. "I ain't going to tell you exactly what I said because it was kind of not appropriate," Mumphery said.

Or veteran receiver Nate Washington, who remembers a diving catch Hopkins made during training camp.

"That kind of got the offense going that day and opened my eyes," Washington said. "But those things happen so commonly with him, whether it be a one hand or whether it be some type of crazy, athletic, off-the-helmet catch like he made yesterday in the game."

And then...

"He's done it so many times I don't even know," said veteran cornerback Johnathan Joseph. "He's made so many one-handed catches it's kind of the norm. ... He could be great, he could be one of the best ever. He realizes that, he puts the work in."

Hopkins is more than his ability to catch what seems uncatchable, often over what seems like excellent coverage. Those catches grab attention, but aren't the only reason Hopkins is the league's leading receiver with 726 yards. He's second in receptions with 52. According to Elias Sports Bureau, this is the sixth most yards receiving of any receiver in NFL history over the first six games of the season.

"I put the hard work in the offseason, so I expected to be where I am," Hopkins said. "Not a lot of people expected me to be in this position. I don't blame them. All the work I put in the offseason."

Over time, Hopkins has worked to learn the Texans offense well enough that he doesn't just rely on his exceptional athletic ability.

Hopkins said it took him until about midway through last season to truly have a handle on the system. That's an area where Texans coach Bill O'Brien has seen Hopkins' knowledge of the offense grow since O'Brien arrived for the 2014 season.

"To be able to line up at F, line up at Y, line up at Z, line up at X, that’s four positions to know," O'Brien said. "Sometimes... we put him in the backfield. To be able to know four or five positions, it’s very difficult. It’s not easy to do that and it takes a lot of hard work, studying on your own and things like that. I think if we called any play in our offense right now, he would be able to tell what every receiving position has to do on that play. That’s a testament to him and the time he’s put in to learn our offense."

It all combines to give his teammates confidence in his dependability and future greatness.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer chuckled Sunday as he relayed a story about Hopkins reminding him to keep throwing him the ball. It's not even a question for Hoyer, who's helped contribute to Hopkins being the most targeted receiver in the NFL.

Said Hoyer: "When you have a guy like that who wants the football, who wants it in crunch time, and has the ability to go out and do it, it’s fun."