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Road map for a first NFL start


 Trey Hopkins' first NFL start comes against the iron.

Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler are no longer on the Bengals offensive line. But they left something behind for right guard Trey Hopkins in his first NFL start.

And, let's face it. After you get beyond Sunday's field-goal kickers,  Baltimore's brilliant Justin Tucker and Cincinnati's redemption-seeking Randy Bullock, the opener (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) comes down to the Ravens' massive and crafty front seven compared to the Bengals' revamped offensive line.

There's the obvious. Cedric Ogbuehi in his second NFL start at left tackle against Ravens' all-time sack leader Terrell Suggs starting his 15th season. And there's Jake Fisher in his fourth NFL start at right tackle against those wave of outside linebackers that line up anywhere they want and good luck to you while they've finished in the top ten in each of the last three seasons.

But after some additions in the secondary, more magical drafting from the Wizard, general manager Ozzie Newsome, and a preseason their first group didn't allow a touchdown, they're saying this could be the Ravens' best defense since Bengals head Marvin Lewis' NFL record-setters in 2000.

And then there is Hopkins, who has waited four years to make that first start Sunday (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) and it turns out it is against two of the more formidable defensive tackles in football.

"They're big strong guys and they've had a great preseason," Hopkins says of Pro Bowler Brandon Williams and nose tackle Michael Pierce. "Everybody's been harking on them and rightfully so. Baltimore always is a stout defense … You can tell (Pierce) he's learning from Williams. There are no slouches on defense. You have to be on top of your game … They've put it on film in the preseason. They're always a great defense. They have the right components in the front seven. The strong D-line. The active backers. I don't think anybody expects much different."

There are just some things you know.  In a streak that stretches back to Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis' first season as the Baltimore defensive coordinator, the Ravens aren't going to give you much running. For 21 straight seasons they haven't allowed four yards per rush and are currently at 3.7 all time. And since Hopkins was playing at Texas in 2012 they are third in the NFL in three-and-outs. Playing them is like going to the dentist.


Hopkins watched Kevin Zeitler prepare for Baltimore's brawn.

It may be Hopkins' first NFL start, but he's been around for three seasons on injured reserve and the practice squad. His 10 NFL snaps came against Baltimore in last year's finale. He watched Whitworth prepare for Suggs at left tackle and Zeitler at right guard study Williams and acrobatic middle linebacker C.J. Mosley and since 2014 Hopkins has watched the Bengals build a 5-1 edge against Baltimore.

A visual look at the 2017 Bengals roster.

"The positive thing about being here so long is I've seen how guys have prepared," Hopkins says. "I've watched a lot of great players and seen a lot of older guys how they prepare for games like this against the great players. The one thing I've noticed is that no matter how great the player is, the biggest focus is on yourself and your technique. I think that's something that is coached here and something that has worked well for us. That's how I'm trying to go into this game. Trying not to be overwhelmed because I have a lot of excitement going into this. It's been a long time since I got a start and come anywhere near the reps I'm going to get."

Hopkins has been watching offensive line coach Paul Alexander get people ready and now he's up next.

"Whit, Zeitler. I saw the preparation with great players like that," Hopkins says. "I've seen the preparation they put in. But I've also seen how much of their week and how much of their preparation is based on, 'Yeah I know this is what their front looks like. I know this is what they're going to do, but also know, 'What I have to work on. What I have to make sure I do.'

"We always are able to prepare and Paul puts us in good positions, teaches us the right techniques, and trusts us to go out execute. I don't think this Sunday is going to be any different."

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