DeAndre Hopkins wants to make the most of his training camp with the Cardinals, whether it is working on the field after his knee surgery or signing autographs for fans – even going into the stands at one point Saturday – when Covid had prevented that his first two Arizona seasons.
But camp won't be normal for the wide receiver. It can't. Not with the knowledge he is suspended the first six games of the regular season for performance enhancing drugs, impacting not only his team but how the veteran can even prepare.
"That's life," Hopkins said Saturday after practice. "I've been through worse things in life than sitting out six games. Mentally I've been prepared for tough moments like this my whole life.
"This is just a little scratch. This is my job and I love it, but I'm ready for whatever comes my way."
Professionally, Hopkins is in the middle of his most difficult time. He played eight games before a bad hamstring sidelined him for three weeks (and a chunk of the last game he played in Week 8), and then didn't even make it through two more games before hurting his MCL in Week 14 and needing season-ending surgery.
Hopkins had only missed two games in his career up until then. Once his suspension ends, he will have missed 14 of 16, including last year's playoff game.
The suspension means Hopkins can practice in training camp and the preseason and play in preseason games. But starting on Labor Day, Sept. 5, Hopkins cannot come to the Dignity Health Training Center for six weeks.
"I don't know what happened with D-Hop, but I know what type of guy he is, I know what type of competitor he is," quarterback Kyler Murray said. "He's a brother of mine, he's a great dude, and I love him to death. I just know when he comes back, he'll be ready to go."
Hopkins can return Oct. 17, but because the Cardinals play that week on Oct. 20 – a Thursday at home against the Saints – they don't figure to practice but instead only walkthrough their preparation for that game.
"What's bad about a walkthrough?" Hopkins said with a big smile.
"Thursday night is a big night to come back and have a debut game," he added.
Hopkins wasn't going to get to detailed on issues he had with the suspension, noting that he'd like to at a later date. He has long held he was found with just a trace amount in his system, but "the NFL is very black and white. I wish the NFL wasn't so black and white, but it is what it is."
Hopkins said he wished his team had had more time to appeal. "We fought until we could," he said, saying he barely puts anything in his body that could even be the source.
"It's hard to know when something gets contaminated at a trace amount when you're not working at the manufacturing company," he said.
He sounded resigned to the idea he would miss six games. The Cardinals have worked out a process for Hopkins to get ready in camp – a "great plan," Hopkins called it – knowing he won't be playing right away.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said Hopkins has bought in to easing himself in, before allowing "you never know with Hop sometimes."
"Anytime you get him on that field he wants to go out and practice," Kingsbury said. "You have to save him from himself. He starts hearing guys talking trash, especially with fans in the stands, he'll want to go put on a show."
His knee now healthy, Hopkins now faces the countdown clock to his time with the team. Once the suspension begins, he said he will be mimicking the work the team does in practice, so he can try and mesh easily when Week 7 arrives.
He will watch the games on TV he said. And wait.
"I'm a patient guy," Hopkins said. "I don't get too frustrated with things, I don't get too up and down. I deal with real life every day. I don't think it's something I'll be too antsy about.
"I love the game. It'll be hard watching those guys and not being there."
Images of Back Together Saturday during the 2022 Cardinals Training Camp at State Farm Stadium