You would think it would be difficult to lose track of a 6-foot-3, 310-pound man, but Cincinnati Bengals offensive lineman Trey Hopkins has been turning offseason practices into somewhat of a game of hide and seek.
The versatile Hopkins has played all five spots on the offensive line during OTAs and minicamp, raising his value among a group that allowed 41 sacks a year ago and then saw its top two players leave in free agency.
“Trey is our 2017 version of Dave Lapham,” offensive line coach Paul Alexander said, referring to the Bengals radio analyst and former offensive lineman who not only played all five positions during his 10-year career, but did so in the same game a couple of times.
“It’s really amazing,” Alexander added. “(Hopkins) is so smart. At one time he thought about going to med school. He’s a really bright guy, and he just gets football. And he feels as natural on the left as he does on the right. He’s really, really come on for us, and he’s had really as good a spring as anybody.
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Hopkins signed with the Bengals as undrafted free agent in 2014, but he spent his rookie season on Injured Reserve after suffering a leg injury in the preseason. In 2015 he was among the final cuts before being re-signed to the practice squad.
And last year he was waived twice in a 12-day span in September, only to be re-signed to the practice squad both times before eventually making his NFL debut in the season finale against Baltimore, playing 10 snaps at left guard.
He said he knows 2017 may be his last chance to win a spot on the 43-man roster coming out of training camp.
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“The clock is definitely winding down,” Hopkins said. “I’ve had a year on IR. I’ve had two on the practice squad. I’ve done every other thing but be on the roster for the whole year. So this is kind of it. This is the year where I made a decision whether I’m going to sink or swim.”
Given his versatility and the fact that his one game of experience is one more than four other linemen on the roster, Hopkins is well positioned to survive the final cuts this year.
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“It feels good being able to show I can do multiple things,” Hopkins said. “If that helps me make the roster, that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day. It’s really helped me because I understand the offense a lot more having to see it from every different position. I hope it creates an opportunity for me.”
The team appears set to go into training camp with a starting five of Cedric Ogbuehi at left tackle, Jake Fisher at right tackle, Clint Boling at left guard, Andre Smith at right guard and Russell Bodine at center.
But should injury or inconsistency strike any one of them, Hopkins could be the replacement.
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Inconsistency was a big issue last year, primarily for Ogbuehi but also for Fisher to a lesser extent. But Alexander said he’s been impressed with the way both young tackles have responded this spring.
“This is really the first time that Ced’s been healthy and could go through the spring and learn from Day 1, this is your stance, this is your step, this is your this and that and have a progression that builds one upon the other,” he said. “Then you get out and run plays and it all comes together. He’s always been behind the curve. We’re like “Oh, geez, you missed all of that, well get in there.’”
As a rookie, Fisher was in the role Hopkins finds himself in now, except instead of playing all five offensive line spots, he mixed in some fullback and tight end with his tackle and guard duties.
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“As a rookie he played five spots, and I’ve never had a rookie do that,” Alexander said. “And I wish in retrospect he didn’t have to do that. But he did.
“We’ve done Jake a little disservice, but we had to do it,” Alexander added. “This camp he’s just playing right tackle. And you can see, he has a timing, he has a rhythm, he has a technique.”
With Ogbuehi and Fisher improving and Boling and Bodine firmly entrenched, the best shot for Hopkins – or possibly T.J. Johnson, Christian Westerman or rookie fifth-round pick J.J. Dielman – to fight for a starting spot will be at right guard, where Andre Smith is learning the ropes after playing seven seasons at tackle.
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“Andre is still a work in progress learning guard,” Alexander said. “Hopefully this time over the break, things are going to gel in his mind. This was kind of a learning curve for him. Now he’s got to get to the do-it part.”
After wrapping mandatory minicamp Thursday, the Bengals will be off for six weeks before opening training camp July 27.