GLENDALE, Ariz. — The biggest addition to the Arizona Cardinals, DeAndre Hopkins, is three on-field practices into developing a chemistry with quarterback Kyler Murray and learning Kliff Kingsbury’s offense.
Eyes will be on him for the next month. So far, Hopkins has unsurprisingly shown that same work ethic and diligence that helped him become a top NFL receiver.
Yet the chatter in the past month has been about what Hopkins can do for others. How his relationship with Murray grows is the obvious, under-the-microscope story.
But in terms of offseason hype, it’s receiver Christian Kirk who others within the locker room aren’t afraid to heap big expectations upon.
“With Christian, I expect him to take the next step as a player,” Kingsbury said in August before the Cardinals gathered for camp at State Farm Stadium. “I see the production and I see the potential to go through the roof. I mentioned it last year before he got hurt: I thought he was going to have a really, really big year and unfortunately had the ankle slow him down.
“He just looks like a different guy. Having a guy like DeAndre (Hopkins) around him day in, day out is going to make him that much better of a player and that much better of a weapon for us.”
Kirk has shown his competitiveness over his first two NFL seasons. Production aside, his fire stands out when injuries have kept him out of action.
He played 12 games as a rookie and ended 2018 on the IR with a broken foot after he caught 43 balls for 590 yards and three scores. Last year, Kirk suffered a gruesome ankle injury mid-year and rehabbed enough to eventually return, although that restricted his mobility for the rest of the year.
He still played in 13 games and recorded 709 yards with three more touchdowns.
Ninety-five yards short of leading Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who played 16 games in 2019, Kirk still was just two targets short of the future Hall of Famer. Production-wise, he was playing well enough to be the top receiver on the team and has an obvious chemistry with Murray.
So of course, despite the fact that Hopkins is expected to receive a lion’s share of targets, Kirk might still have a career 1,000-yard campaign.
“I got to back it up,” Kirk said of Kingsbury’s high praise. “I got to go out there and I got to play the best football I can play. I believe my offseason, I put myself in the best position to be successful this year. I took it very seriously.
“I got to go out there and play and make the opportunities when they come toward me. That is my main goal right now for the season: Take advantage of the opportunities and be available.”
There’s the expectation to avoid injuries again.
Kirk still gives off a sense of frustration about his missed games, using that as motivation to have a clean 2020. Alongside Hopkins out wide on the opposite side of the field, Kirk and Fitzgerald will for the first time as a duo have defenses focused elsewhere.
“Adding D-Hop just makes Christian that much … more dangerous to me,” Murray said Thursday. “Last year … whenever we were 3-by-1, they single up one side and let the weakside safety play the three-receiver side. That just crowds it up for those guys. Now when you got a guy like D-Hop at the X, you got to help. So having C-Kirk, having Larry, (tight end) Dan (Arnold), all the guys that we got, I think it makes C-Kirk that much more dangerous.
“He’s got it. So I’m ready for him to unleash it.”