• CREECH ON TEXANS’ OFFENSE.
Veteran receiver’s skills complement Hopkins, add threat
DENVER — DeAndre Hopkins’ workout partner three years ago delivered feats of strength and speed that left a lasting impression on him.
As Hopkins trained alongside Demaryius Thomas that offseason, he was struck by how athletic and dedicated Thoma was.
At a sculpted 6-3, 229 pounds, Thomas ran the 40-yard dash in 4.36 seconds when he entered the NFL nine years ago as the Broncos’ first-round pick out of Georgia Tech.
In Thomas, Hopkins saw a veteran wide receiver with an physical style like his own.
“His scores and how high he tested in everything,” said Hopkins, who is accustomed to being ranked the best in everything. “Even though he was a bigger guy, he tested higher than I did in basically everything, so I was trying to push to reach his goals.”
Three years later following a high-profile midseason trade, Thomas and Hopkins are teammates and involved in a whirlwind pairing that brings them to Broncos Stadium at Mile High on Sunday. afternoon.
When wide receiver Will Fuller, the fastest player on the roster who had emerged as one of the most dangerous deep threats in the NFL, tore his anterior cruciate ligament against the Dolphins, Texans general manager Brian Gaine moved to replace him.
The Texans traded a fourthround pick and swapped seventhround selections with the Broncos, acquiring an accomplished wide receiver to work in tandem with Hopkins.
‘It’s going to be great’
When Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson breaks the huddle Sunday, he’ll have two imposing receivers in Hopkins and Thomas. Both are excellent at making contested catches by leaping over or muscling defensive backs out of their way.
“It’s going to be great,” Watson said. “Nothing really should stop the train. DT’s a veteran guy that can do a lot of different things and he’s played a lot of football.”
A five-time Pro Bowl selection, Thomas has caught 665 career passes for 9,055 yards and 60 touchdowns. He isn’t the burner he was early in his career, but the 30-year-old is capable of getting behind cornerbacks.
“Nothing’s changing,” Watson said. “We’re doing what we’re doing. Throw it deep, throw it short, throw it across the middle. I mean, everything we’re going to do, we’re going to do. Just because we lose Will doesn’t mean that the train is going to stop or we’re going to take a different route.”
When it comes to using their body control and superior size, Thomas and Hopkins excel. They have huge hands, excellent leaping ability and strength.
“Any time guys have that kind of size, I mean, DeAndre creates matchup problems because of his size,” Texans receivers coach John Perry said. “Demaryius has done that throughout his career. You’ve got to have great hands to play at this level, and he has that. He’s got great size. He’s deceptively quick and agile. He’s that guy, a lot like DeAndre, that they have great movement skills for a bigger guy. So, that’s going to be exciting to see what we can do with those two guys.
“It’s obviously an ongoing process here to try to figure out how all of the pieces fit together. We’re just excited that those guys are able to work together. They’re both great professionals, so they’ve really gotten along well and I’m looking forward to seeing how it all continues to mesh.”
Fuller will be missed
But not having Fuller changes the complexion of the offense. Fuller caught 32 passes for 503 yards and four touchdowns with 23 first downs on 45 targets. He caught a 73-yard touchdown pass in his final game of the season against the Dolphins.
Defensive backs were unable to stop Fuller, a 4.28 sprinter, from running by them.
“Will is a big piece to this offense because of the things we want to do and the things we like to do, require him to do the things he was doing very successfully,” Watson said. “It’s tough to lose a guy like that. But gaining a guy like DT and being able to include him in the offense to do the same thing that Will did, is a great addition for us too.”
Even with Thomas, Hopkins might shoulder more of the load.
“You’d have to be living in a treehouse in the middle of Colorado not to know what we feel and how we feel about DeAndre,” Perry said. “We’ll lean on him heavily just as we’ve always done and I’m sure he’ll come through, just as he’s always done.”
Hopkins leads the Texans with 53 receptions for 789 yards and six touchdowns. He’s generated 38 first downs through eight games and has been instrumental in the Texans’ turnaround from an 0-3 start to a 5-3 record.
“What’s changed? I don’t think it’s any secret,” coach Bill O’Brien said. “He’s the leading target on third down. He’s got a bunch of yards. He’s our No. 1 receiver. We’re not trying to hide him. Hop knows that. That’s why he is who he is.”
Thomas said this will be an emotional day. The place he called home for nearly nine years and the men with whom he was teammates are the enemy.
“It’ll be fun,” Thomas said. “I’m used to practicing against them but now I get to play against them. So, I’m going to look forward to it.”
Thomas has worked overtime to absorb as much as he can about the playbook. He’s gleaned knowledge from everyone, including Hopkins and Perry.
How the Texans utilize Thomas against his former team will be interesting. He’s expected to start and play extensively, but his former teammates downplayed how much the Texans will use him.
Broncos ready for challenge
“He’s going to be ready for war,” Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders told Denver reporters. “There is only a certain amount of plays that they can give him. He can’t run the whole playbook with him in there.”
Said cornerback Chris Harris: “You know DT is going to want to come up here and prove us wrong why we traded him and make big plays. So, we’ve got to stop that.”
Thomas should complement Hopkins’ skill set. Targeted 56 times this season in eight games with Denver, Thomas had 36 catches for 402 yards and three TDs.
“Oh yeah, he can make plays,” Hopkins said. “He did it with Denver for years. I’m pretty sure he’s going to continue to do that here.”
Demaryius Thomas, a five-time Pro Bowl selection, has caught 665 career passes for 9,055 yards and 60 touchdowns.
Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins leads the Texans with 53 receptions for 789 yards and six touchdowns.