TEMPE, Ariz. — DeAndre Hopkins used one word to describe his absence during the Arizona Cardinals’ slow start.
“Frustrating,” Hopkins told reporters this week. “It’s really only one word to put it. It’s frustrating.”
Hopkins was forced to watch the Cardinals (2-4) struggled while he served the six game suspension for violating the league’s performance enhancing drug policy. He had been training at EXOS in Tempe to stay in shape because he wasn’t allowed to practice with the team until this week.
The wide receiver has served his suspension and the Cardinals are very grateful to have him back just in time for the team’s Thursday night game versus the New Orleans Saints. The Cardinals have struggled mightily without five-time Pro Bowler in the lineup. Arizona offense ranks in the bottom of the league in red zone scoring, third-down efficiency and points per game.
“Being a leader and being a playmaker and his ball skills are great. He has a knack for finding open spaces in zones, getting open and running after the catch,” Cardinals wide receiver Rondale Moore told USA TODAY Sports on Wednesday. “All those things will be beneficial for us.”
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Hopkins hasn’t played in an NFL game in 10 months. He missed the Cardinals’ final five games last year (including playoffs) due to a knee injury. When he was in the lineup last season, the Cardinals went 8-2. Hopkins produced eight touchdowns in those 10 games last season. Cardinals wide receivers have caught just four touchdowns through six games this year.
It’s unreasonable to expect Hopkins to come back and be the savior for the Cardinals, although, he should be a big boost.
“One person can’t go out and win a game, but it does help having someone like myself out there who can dictate how defenses play us,” Hopkins said.
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Hopkins’ return comes at a desperate time for the Cardinals as the team will be without current leading receiver Marquise Brown for a while due to a foot injury. The team did acquire wide receiver Robbie Anderson for insurance, but Hopkins is the team’s true No. 1 wideout.
“His energy. It seems like every time you see him on the field … there is a reason why he’s the best,” Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray said. “Excited to be able to throw him the ball again.”
Following an injury-plagued season, there are questions about whether or not the 30-year-old wideout is still a top-flight receiver. Hopkins was asked if he’s feeling the pressure as he gets ready for his highly anticipated season debut after a lengthy hiatus.
“I like pressure. Pressure’s always been something I’ve thrived in. I don’t really look at it as pressure, I look at it as an opportunity,” Hopkins said. “I don’t really worry about the negative stuff. I’m gonna go out and play my game and I know what I can do when I’m on the football field.”
The Cardinals are hoping what Hopkins does Thursday night, and the rest of the season, is show the NFL world that he’s still one of the NFL’s best wide receivers and simultaneously help the franchise get out of its early season hole.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Tyler Dragon on Twitter @TheTylerDragon.