TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Quarterback Kyler Murray and All-Pro receiver DeAndre Hopkins were both at practice for the Arizona Cardinals on Wednesday in a sign the team’s top two playmakers might be ready to return after a three-game absence.
Even defensive end J.J. Watt was seen on the practice field, doing conditioning work off to the side despite a shoulder injury that could keep him out for the rest of the season.
Arizona (9-2) has the NFL’s best record and has regained some relatively fresh legs after a long-awaited bye week. The Cardinals hope the Thanksgiving break will allow them to work with a healthier roster when they play at Chicago on Sunday.
Coach Kliff Kingsbury said Murray and Hopkins were both “limited” during Wednesday’s workout.
“We want to make sure they feel good and ease them back into the week,” Kingsbury said. “Tomorrow, we’ll have pads on and hopefully they can do a little more.”
Murray is dealing with a sprained ankle while Hopkins has a hamstring injury. The third-year quarterback said his ankle feels good and he’s “hopeful” he’ll play against the Bears, adding that he didn’t feel the missed games would hurt his timing.
“Practice today, the first couple of lob reps, it felt like I’ve been doing it the past three, four weeks,” Murray said.
Murray, who didn’t miss a game during his first two NFL seasons, was one of the league’s top MVP candidates before his injury near the end of a loss to the Green Bay Packers. He’s thrown for 2,276 yards and 17 touchdowns and also run for three touchdowns in eight starts.
The forecast in Chicago is for wet and cold conditions Sunday, but Kingsbury said he didn’t expect weather to factor into Hopkins’ availability.
“I don’t think weather as much, just as much the time he’s been off task,” Kingsbury said. “We’ve just got to be smart with how we use him if he’s able to go. Maximize him the best we can, but make sure we don’t wear him out.”
The Cardinals have performed surprisingly well without Murray and Hopkins with a 2-1 record. Backup quarterback Colt McCoy has played well and the Cardinals have a deep receiver room with A.J. Green, Christian Kirk, Rondale Moore and tight end Zach Ertz.
Arizona’s defense is also much improved, giving up just 18.4 points per game, which ranks fourth in the league.
The unit’s continued its good play even after losing Watt, a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year. It’s unclear how realistic Watt’s return could be during the regular season or potential playoffs, but Kingsbury hasn’t ruled it out.
“He’s a machine and he’s been working like crazy,” Kingsbury said. “I’m never up here when he’s not up here doing some sort of rehab. Then he’s out there on the field doing some running. You never know with him.”
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