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Corner store

Posted Feb 26, 2012

INDIANAPPOLIS — If the offensive side of the ball in this draft has RG3, then maybe South Carolina cornerback Stephon Gilmore is J-Joe2.

If the Bengals are indeed sifting through possible replacements for Johnathan Joseph at cornerback with the 17th or 21st picks of the first round, then what about a guy from Joseph's college who grew up in his hometown of Rock Hill, S.C. watching him play at a rival high school?

"I talked to him the other day as a matter of fact; we're kind of close," Gilmore said here Sunday at the NFL Scouting Combine as he prepared for Tuesday's biggest 40-yard dash of his life.

How close Joseph and Gilmore will be drafted six years apart depends on whom you ask.

Rob Rang, the CBSSports.com analyst who called Joseph's emergence a few days before he blew up the 2006 combine with a 4.31-second 40-yard dash, says that is too high for Gilmore because he doesn't have the "exciting cover skills I saw from Joseph at South Carolina."

But NFL Network's Mike Mayock isn't ready to close Gilmore out of the first round.

"Gilmore is in the discussion," Mayock said. "People like Gilmore. He's a gifted kid, but they're trying to figure him out."

That means they don't know if he's fast enough downfield or how good of a man-to-man player he'll be because South Carolina has a zone system. What both Rang and Mayock do know is that after LSU's Morris Claiborne and Alabama's Dre Kirkpatrick, there may be no first-round corners left and that could leave the Bengals mulling other positions since both figure to be gone.

"I would think there would be better options at other positions; at receiver and at guard," Rang said.

The Bengals can feel the NFL's glare with the next guy on everyone's list North Alabama's Janoris Jenkins. Jenkins is a first-round lock physically. But his past contains more red flares than an I-71 commute.

In Sunday's candid, torturous news conference, Jenkins admitted to three arrests (two marijuana charges and a bar fight, he said), patiently spelled the names of his four children, and heartbreakingly talked about when realized how much his exile from Florida cost him.

"Coming from Florida, getting three or four pairs of cleats a week, gloves, going to North Alabama and getting one pair of cleats," Jenkins said. "Playing in front of 3,500 people. Being in the Swamp and playing in front of 95,000 is a big difference. Learning experience."

His Dr. Phil media session, while impressive, didn't change anything. Drafting Janoris would be a Ginormous gamble and it may be one Cincinnati's past can't afford it to make. But, like Mayock said, who knows what the Bengals and the 31 other teams are thinking when it comes to the 5-10, 195-pound Jenkins.

"Every team is a little different," Mayock said. "Some teams will look him in the eye and convince themselves the kid is really going to change a little bit. Other teams are going to say he's never going to change his spots. That's who he is. What happens is the more talented kids get more chances and Jenkins is a pretty talented kid and somebody is going to buy into that.

"They’re all going to say the same thing. ‘I’ve grown up. I’m sorry.’ That’s kind of the message. ‘I’ve grown up. I’m sorry.’ Now, do you buy into that? And here’s the key. Just like medical, at what level do you buy in?. At a first-round price? At a second-round price? At a fourth-round price? Every team’s different that way. I already know some teams have certain players off the board. I’m not going to give you any names. But I know some teams have some players already off the board. ‘I’m not dealing with that player.’ Whether it’s medical or off the field. Some teams say, ‘That’s a first-round pick, I don’t care.’ Other teams say, ‘He’s off the board.’ And there’s a bunch of teams in the middle somewhere."

So that's one of the reasons Mayock says even if Claiborne and Kirkpatrick are judged to be the only first-round corners, at least three will go because it's such a premium position in this run-and-gun age.

"There will have to be; on average, teams do it," he said. "You look at Janoris Jenkins, and you take all the off the field stuff away, and he’s a first-round corner. I believe there will be at least three. Yeah."

Which must mean Nebraska's Alfonzo Dennard is dipping after his tough Senior Bowl.

"Dennard has to run well here and I don’t know if he's going to," Rang said. "He struggled a little bit at the Senior Bowl. He's a guy that should be playing in press or zone. When he's in off man coverage, which is what they did at the Senior Bowl, he's going to struggle. At the same time if he runs well here, I think it will solidify his draft position but I think 17 and 21 are a little too early for him."

Mayock is keeping an eye on Montana sleeper Trumaine Johnson because at 6-2 he's got first-round size, but he's also got some off-field questions.

So does it come screeching back to J-Joe2?

The 6-0, 190-pound Gilmore is trying to repeat what Joseph did when the Bengals took him with the 24th pick and run himself into first-round discussion on the strength of his 40-yard dash. Joseph's 4.31 seconds was timely enough to overcome the knock he didn’t have enough Division I experience after starting his career at a junior college. Gilmore, who has been tagged by one publication at 4.52, may not come near that but he says he'll run faster than people think and he thinks it will get him into the first round.

"Gilmore is a good player and he's got more physical skills than Dennard," Mayock said. "Dennard's a real thickly built lower-bodied kid. I'm anxious to see how he runs. I'm not sure he's going to be as fast as people think and a lot of teams think he's a nickel more than anything else. The corner class drops off a little bit. I think there's a solid group in the second and third round, but I don’t think they are high-level first-round guys. Gilmore is in the discussion."

Gilmore is intriguing. He's a former high school quarterback who was used in South Carolina's Wildcat. He started 40 games, more than double what Joseph did, and, like Joseph, is soft-spoken, says all the right things and is praised for his work ethic.

"Gilmore is physical, but I don't think he's the same type of athlete as Joseph," Rang said. "Gilmore is a good tackler. He gets his hands on the receiver, re-routes him, and things of that nature. I don't see the same type of speed, fluid hips. I talked to some people who think he might be one of those guys that potentially converts to safety.

"That said, if he runs really well, it's going to intrigue some teams," said Rang, who says his size and physicality fits the increasingly popular press coverage.

One thing about Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. He likes his corners smart and he likes them to hit. Here's a former QB that led his team in tackles last season.

"I like to tackle a lot. I think most corners don't like to tackle," Gilmore said. "I like to make plays on the ball, and sometimes I try to strip the ball. I just try to be a complete corner.

"I knew what the quarterback's looking at. So it gave me some upside."

Gilmore said Joseph's advice coming into the combine was pretty clear cut.

"He just said work hard, go out and just work for everything you want and you'll receive it," Gilmore said.

Now if he could just take Joseph's 40 time as well as his advice … .

 

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