Hopkins eyes Week 1 return from knee injury

CINCINNATI -- Trey Hopkins gave himself three days to feel sorry for himself after the Cincinnati Bengals center tore his ACL in the second half of the 2020 season finale.

The next day vacation was supposed to start. Instead, he was facing a major surgery and grueling recovery process.

After allowing himself that time to sulk, Hopkins turned the focus on his goals of getting back for the start of training camp. Two weeks later once swelling had gone down, Hopkins underwent surgery Jan. 20 and thus began his journey to make one of the most surprising comebacks this preseason.

Hopkins passed his conditioning test Saturday and was fully cleared to begin camp Wednesday alongside his teammates – just under seven months after injuring his knee. Rehabbing an ACL tear normally takes nine to 12 months, and as much as has been said about Joe Burrow’s nine-month recovery from a slightly worse injury (he tore the MCL too), Hopkins wasn’t originally expected to be ready to go yet. Hopkins’ rehab took a tick over six months.

“I’m not really surprised because this is what I wanted,” Hopkins said of his recovery. “After the initial shock (of the injury), you mope for a little bit, but I put on my mind that I want to be on the field. I want to be on the field. I don’t want to be hurt. I don’t want to be a guy on the sidelines. I don’t want to be on IR again. I don’t want to do any of those things. So I set that goal in my mind, spoke it into existence, kept it in my mind. Spoke it to (strength and conditioning coach) Joey (Boese), spoke it to (trainer) Nick (Cosgray), and they put me through the steps necessary to make sure I could do that. So I’m not surprised, but I’m proud.”

Fans will get a chance to see Hopkins and the Bengals this weekend during the “Back Together Saturday” event at Paul Brown Stadium, a celebration of the first time a crowd can watch training camp since 2019. Practice begins with warmups around 2:30 p.m. and there will be family activities around the concourses as well.

For Hopkins, just being back on the field is something to celebrate. He’s come a long way since that Jan. 3 injury.

“It was a gut punch,” Hopkins said. “I can’t lie and say I wasn’t down and I immediately was like, here we go because it was some days I just wanted to sit in a dark room and just mope to myself. That is the honest truth about it. But like I said I just had to remind myself, what is it that you’re really trying to do? You can’t throw in the towel. There’s always going to be some adversity, there’s always going to be something that goes wrong, and you know what, I drew the short straw. I got hurt the last game. It sucks but you’ve got to move on, you got to push and then that’s all I had to do.”

Hopkins said the first few weeks were the hardest as his body was feeling those initial scars and healing. He watched the Super Bowl with an ice bag on his leg envious of the guys still playing while he was hobbling around and needing the help of family taking care of him.

Once he was able to start moving and getting on the treadmill and lifting weights, the process got easier.

And having Burrow around for most of his rehab helped too. Burrow had surgery Dec. 2, about six weeks earlier than Hopkins.

“Joe was a little bit farther ahead than I was, but it was good to look into the future those couple of weeks and be like, ‘OK, this is where I should be at. This is what he’s doing. This is what I should be able to do in a couple of weeks,’” Hopkins said. “That was nice.”

After being limited all offseason, Hopkins is being eased into training camp moreso than Burrow, who at least got to do most of the same drills as his fellow quarterbacks during the offseason workout program. Hopkins was still on the side doing rehab work all spring. Now his main limitation is not participating in 11 on 11s.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor said after the off day Sunday, things could ramp up more for Hopkins as the team’s practices pick up the intensity as well. After the first two days acclimatizing, the team wore shells for the first time Friday, and full pads come on Tuesday.

Hopkins is still expected to be the team’s starting center, and he’s targeting Week 1 for his return.

“They have a good plan in place for me,” Hopkins said. “I trust their plan for me to ease back in in here because, again, like I said it’s six months. I’m going to be smart about things. As long as I’m feeling good, as long as the knee is responding well, they’re going to keep progressing me. I can’t speak for Sept. 12 yet but I can speak for right now and saying I’m feeling pretty good. (Week 1), that’s the hope. That is my goal.”

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