Under the lights


With the Bengals teeing up the preseason Thursday (8 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, here are three guys to watch as a sampling of the roster gyrations that get under way against the Chiefs.

(Expect to see the backups most of the night with the starters not breaking a sweat until next week's Paul Brown Stadium opener (Aug. 16- 7 p.m.) against the Jets.

It takes all kinds.

Left guard Trey Hopkins, the undrafted rookie out of Texas, is adjusting to a new scheme at one spot. Rookie fullback Ryan Hewitt, undrafted out of Stanford, is playing multiple spots in  a system that is similar to his college playbook. Veteran cornerback R.J. Stanford is on his third team with 41 NFL games on his resume.  


The 6-3, 310-pound Hopkins figures to get Thursday's start at left guard with Clint Boling and Mike Pollak resting their knees. And he's been thinking about it.

"I thought about it (Monday night) when we watched film on (the Chiefs) for the first time and it hit me that this is the big stage," Hopkins said. "This is what you grew up watching.   This is the last level. When you're in middle school, you want to be on the varsity. When you're on varsity, you want to go to college. This is the final level. It's just great to have the opportunity. A lot of people don't."

If Hopkins sounds wise beyond his years, it's because he is. He's so young that when his North Shore High School team in Houston played Katy, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was long gone. Hopkins turned 22 just two weeks before camp.

But he's got the Bengals enthused about his athletic feet and his smarts. Hopkins went undrafted, probably because he's viewed as a smaller guard that can play only one spot in the NFL after he made 28 starts at left guard and 14 at right tackle.

But running backs coach Kyle Caskey, a Texas A&M product who helped coach the Bengals offensive line the previous four years, has noticed that Hopkins is "a lot stronger and a lot longer than you think. We got a good pickup there."

Hopkins says his biggest adjustment has been with his footwork.

"This is a different scheme than the one at Texas, especially technique wise," Hopkins said. "We did a lot of SEC downhill stuff. My stance when I got here was a little bit heavy just for the run. At Texas we pride ourselves on we can just run the ball all the time. I had to learn to be more balanced, more than anything."

Hopkins has already found out about the rough and tumble AFC North. His two pre-draft visits were to Cincinnati and Cleveland and the Browns also came calling after the draft. It's believed that Hopkins is the Bengals' most expensive rookie free agent with a reported bonus of $15,000, but he says it came down to more than money. Offensive line coach Paul Alexander was a big factor.

"This is where I was most comfortable," Hopkins said. "I really liked that Coach Alexander is so respected around the nation. He has the technique coaches look up to and really try to emulate and I really respect that."

His goal Thursday night is pretty simple.

"My biggest thing is I want to show this team I can contribute and that I love being here," he said.


As special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons would say, this isn't the 5-10, 187-pound Stanford's first rodeo. He goes into Thursday's game with 35 special teams tackles in 41 NFL games in four seasons with three teams as he bids for what looks to the sixth and final cornerback spot. Seventh-rounder Lavelle Westbrooks is also going to have a say.

But it helps that Stanford last played cornerback for Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle, an 11-year Bengals secondary coach before he went to Miami.

"He's been around. He understands the NFL game. He came from a similar system,' said Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. Same coverage calls. Same terminology."

Stanford isn't in the same boat as linebacker James Harrison when he joined the Bengals last season after a decade in Pittsburgh as Guenhter taught Harrison the new fits and other 4-3 concepts to a 3-4 linebacker. Plus, he's already bonded with Simmons over his 22 solo teams tackles. Simmons has been looking for a corner that can be a gunner on punts and a kick coverer. Has he found him?

"We'll see, He's had a good camp," Simmons said.

"What would be a good night for me?" asked Stanford, repeating the question. "A win. Contributing both on defense and special teams. Making a few plays."

Stanford has five first-round picks ahead of him. But that doesn't faze a guy that was drafted in the seventh round out of Utah in 2010.

"It's an honor to be around guys like Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick, (Adam Jones) and Leon (Hall)," Stanford said.

But he won't think about all that.

"It's hard to eat when you're looking at somebody else's plate," he said. ""I focus on my play. I focus on what I have on my plate and what I have to do and just be consistent."

A career highlight?

"The best is yet to come," he said.


The 6-4, 254-pound Hewitt is coming off a nice week. After getting reps at tight end the first week, he moved over to fullback and has opened some eyes working with the first group. He should play at both spots Thursday and no one seems worried.

"He understands blocking schemes. He knows what the offensive linemen are doing," Caskey said. "He picks up things really well. He can play multiple positions and not suffer. It's rare for anybody, not just rookies, to be able to play different spots."

Hewitt says the transition from Stanford to the Bengals has been smooth. Same footwork, same technique and "that helps a lot."

Nerves as that first NFL game approaches?

"It crosses your mind," Hewitt said. "But at the same time we've been practicing against a great defense every day. I've gotten reps against some of the most physical linebackers in the NFL.
But he won't change his approach.

"It has to be just another game," he said.

It may be preseason, but Stanford-Cal was never like this.

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