Cincinnati Bengals fans may not see center Trey Hopkins or Joe Burrow dress for a preseason game. And that’s OK.
What Hopkins and Burrow have shown Zac Taylor in practice has been enough. The third-year head coach is confident he’ll have both in the starting lineup on Sept. 12 when the Bengals host the Minnesota Vikings, regardless of if they take a preseason snap or not.
It is undetermined at this point if either Hopkins or Burrow will play on Sunday when Cincinnati closes out its preseason against the Miami Dolphins.
“They've shown us enough to know that they’re going to be ready to play,” Taylor said. “It’s just a matter of what do we want do? Do we want to put those guys out there in a preseason game or just give them more rest and get them ready for the Minnesota game? We’ll take a couple more days before we make that decision since we’ve got a week here before that game.”
Taylor is scheduled to address the media one more time before Sunday’s game in which he’ll likely announce who is expected to play. There’s plenty of reasons to think they both could benefit from playing and just as many for them to not.
Burrow and Hopkins know the decision is out of their control – something they both unfortunately know too much about. Both players are coming a season in which ended with a torn ACL. The difference? Burrow tore his in Week 11, Hopkins tore his in Week 17. Burrow also tore his MCL making for a longer recovery process.
The fact both are going to be ready to start and playing with as much confidence as they have is impressive, specifically for Hopkins in his case. The typical recovery timeline for an ACL injury is generally nine months. Hopkins began his rehab process on Jan. 6.
Both men attacked their rehab with extreme urgency and attention to detail. Perhaps it’s why they are in the position they are to date. Burrow said he treated every workout like it was “life or death” and Hopkins took a more diligent approach than he’s done with injuries prior.
“My first injury when I broke my tibia the first time, I didn’t attack it quite the way I needed to,” Hopkins said. “I feel like being older I feel I know how to rehab my body a little better. I know how to take care of my body better. I also know how to give myself a little bit of grace.”
The center and quarterback’s relationship on a football team is important. Fortunately for the Bengals, Hopkins and Burrow played 10 games together last year. They’ve banked meaningful reps with one another. It’s probably why Taylor has the confidence he does despite if they play a snap in the preseason or not.
Hopkins and Burrow don’t need preseason game reps to ensure a smooth operation in the season-opener. They’re relying on the connection they made with one another last season.
“I think we have a pretty good relationship with that just off of what we were able to do last year,” Hopkins said. “And we are still getting those reps in practice. The thing that changes in the game (is) you are on the stage, you got the big lights going on and all that.”
The Bengals offensive line will look different in the upcoming season. But what hasn’t changed is the two players who are arguably the most important to Burrow’s protection – Hopkins and left tackle Jonah Williams. Both Hopkins and Williams started every game Burrow was able to play in his rookie season.
Whether Burrow takes a snap from Hopkins at Paul Brown Stadium on Sunday or not, Taylor won’t have to worry about his center and quarterback being on the same page when the games count.