By Kristie Rieken
HOUSTON — The Houston Texans have grown accustomed to watching star receiver Andre Johnson make spectacular grabs.
Just two games into his NFL career, the Texans are already beginning to expect equally dazzling catches from DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopkins reached above a defender to pull in a 3-yard touchdown reception to give Houston a 30-24 overtime win over the Titans.
“If you’re out at practice watching him, he makes a spectacular catch at least once a day and sometimes three times a day,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said.
“So for us to put the ball up and him to make a play, that’s great to see, but we kind of expected it. That’s what he’s here for.”
Johnson was knocked out of that game with a concussion. And with his status uncertain for Sunday’s game against Baltimore, the rookie could be needed again.
“He’s been asked to do a lot since he’s stepped into the building,” quarterback Matt Schaub said. “He just continues to make plays and when you give him a chance, he’s going to make you look good. It’s just exciting to watch him grow each week.”
The Texans have been impressed with the maturity of Hopkins since they selected him with the 27th overall pick in this year’s draft. It was the first time Houston had drafted a receiver in the first round since taking Johnson with the No. 3 pick in 2003.
He sustained a concussion in the second preseason game and sat out until the opener. But he showed no signs of rust, grabbing five catches for 66 yards in his NFL debut. Hopkins finished with seven catches for 117 yards against the Titans. He also had another big play to set up the score when he caught a 25-yard pass on third-and-10 to get Houston to the 1-yard line.
A loss of 2 yards on a run backed Houston up to the 3 before the touchdown by Hopkins.
Hopkins said he hasn’t paid much attention to the excitement over his big game among fans and tries to deflect attention about his performance.
“I feel like it’s important to the team,” he said when asked about his playmaking ability. “It takes some pressure off other guys that are making plays. When you’re one-on-one you always want to win those matchups.”
He feels as if his development was helped by the challenge of matching up against Houston’s first-team defense in practice every day.
“My confidence has grown since the first day I came out here going against Johnathan Joseph,” Hopkins said of Houston’s top cornerback.
“You don’t go against too many defensive backs that are as good as him. Going against him in the offseason I felt it prepared me for the season.”
Hopkins arrived in Houston after catching 82 passes and setting Clemson records with 1,405 yards receiving and 18 touchdown receptions last year. His 24 catches of 20 yards or more last season were the most in the ACC and he averaged 17.1 yards a catch in 2012.
He had 206 receptions for 3,020 yards and 27 touchdowns in his three-year career, becoming the sixth player in ACC history with more than 3,000 yards receiving and the only player in conference history to gain that many yards in just three seasons.
The possibility that Johnson might not play this week isn’t changing the way Hopkins is preparing for the game. But it looks as if he won’t have to worry about playing without Johnson. Coach Gary Kubiak said he is doing much better and that he could return to practice on Thursday after sitting out on Wednesday.