Hopkins sprinted along the sideline and leaped over the head of Vikings cornerback Bobby Felder to haul in the pass as he came down at the edge of the end zone for a 34-yard touchdown that helped the Texans to a 27-13 victory on Friday night.
Yes, this was merely a preseason play. It was one of many, however, the Texans have seen in practice already from their first-round draft pick and a glimpse of what they're counting on as a complement to the elite skills of fellow wide receiver Andre Johnson in an offense with the potential to be one of the NFL's best.
"It's very early, but he has had probably as good a camp as it can get for any young player, and it carried over tonight," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "It's good to see that as he gets more comfortable with what we're doing, the more plays he is going to make."
Here are five things we learned from the exhibition opener for both teams:
1. HOPKINS HAS HOPS: The sure-handed kid from Clemson was targeted five times in the first half. He finished with four catches for 52 yards, none more noticeable than the twisting grab he made in winning the jump ball competition with cornerback Bobby Felder.
"I have to give all of the thanks to my quarterback. He put it where it needed to be, and I came down with the play," Hopkins said.
Yates, who relieved Matt Schaub after one series, finished 13 for 21 for 151 yards and the scoring toss to the 27th overall selection.
"He's shown to everybody all camp long that he will go up and get that ball for you," Yates said.
2. PATTERSON CAN PLAY, TOO: The Vikings traded four lower draft picks to move up and snag Cordarrelle Patterson two slots after Hopkins was taken. The sleek 6-foot-2, 220-pound product of Tennessee had a flashy first half, too, returning the opening kickoff 50 yards and finishing with four receptions for 54 yards. The Vikings were confident all along in Patterson's kickoff return ability, but his grasp of the game on offense could take time.
"For him to do what he did tonight, that is going to help his confidence," coach Leslie Frazier said. "I'm sure he'll go back and work even harder to be a complete receiver, and that's exactly what you want out of a rookie."
3. PONDER IS WORTH PROTECTING: Minnesota fans might not feel comfortable with Christian Ponder as the starting quarterback, but despite the presence of veteran Matt Cassel the job is unquestionably his going into the regular season.
That's why, even though his interception cut short the first series after two plays, Frazier followed through on the plan to get Ponder in and out safely to let Cassel and the backups get more time. Cassel is still learning the offense, too, which Ponder has played in for three years.
"You understand the whole reason behind it," Ponder said. "No. 1, you don't want to get hurt, especially in the first preseason game. There are guys trying to make roster spots and need playing time as well. There is plenty of playing time in the next couple games."
4. THE STARS CAN SHINE ANOTHER NIGHT: Ponder and Schaub played briefly, but the list of standouts who were held out was long: Arian Foster, Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Ed Reed for the Texans, and Adrian Peterson, Jared Allen, Chad Greenway, Kevin Williams and Brian Robison for the Vikings.
5. THE CASE FOR KEENUM: Yates is the incumbent second stringer, but Case Keenum -- who's familiar to Houstonians from his record-setting university days there -- is making this a true training camp competition after spending last season on the practice squad. Keenum went 13 for 18 for 125 yards and one touchdown.
"It was fun playing football tonight. It's been a long time since I've gone out and operated and moved the football like I did tonight," he said.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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