Swag and sermons on the corner

Posted Apr 27, 2012

The minister struck a deal with his son all those years ago when his mother didn't want him to play pee wee football.

"I would let him practice. I would keep his stuff hidden," Charles Kirkpatrick recalled Friday. "But when it came time to play, he had to tell his mom."

The minister's son showed up at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time as a Bengal with his father and knows it is time to play. So even though he covets the No. 21 of his hero Deion Sanders, he told equipment manager Jeff Brickner he'd take the No. 27 that was offered instead of waiting to see what happens.

"I'm not looking to make a disturbance or have a distraction over a number," cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick said. "It's not the number. I have to make the number."

The 6-1, 186-pound Kirkpatrick, lean and tapered in a grey suit, made No. 21 for national champion Alabama with lethal hitting, supreme confidence, and alert ball play. When he saw Sanders at the draft in New York City Thursday night, it was a big thrill.

"He told me I won the dress code yesterday. Hearing that from The Swag Man himself, that was nice," Kirkpatrick said. "I grew up watching him. I took some things from (Charles) Woodson. I took some things from Prime and I put my own twist on it."

So maybe it was meant to be that Kirkpatrick's first NFL defensive coordinator would be Mike Zimmer, one of Sanders's mentors and a man with whom he is still close.

"He's been coached hard at Alabama and he's coming from the national championship team, so we really like the pedigree," Zimmer said. "(We like tall) guys that can get hands on the receivers at the line of scrimmage and he moves his feet laterally well. He does a great job in bump and run. The taller corners have an advantage when they're going down the field because the ball has to go over the top of outstretched arms. If they do a good job at the line of scrimmage they have a great advantage down the field."

If Sanders paid Kirkpatrick a high compliment Thursday night, then Zimmer one-upped Prime Time in the middle of Friday afternoon at his news conference. Zimmer said Alabama head coach Nick Saban runs a more complicated defense than he does and that Kirkpatrick is savvy enough that he can make the checks that a veteran safety can make.

"He may have to make checks with the safeties we have," Zimmer said, and with Chris Crocker gone he didn’t seem to be joking. "He won't have any problem with catching on to our system. They're more complicated than we are. They make a lot more checks off backfield sets and different formations and different calls at the line of scrimmage. I don't like mistakes and keep it simple."

What's simple is that one of the six first-round corners may very well not make this team now that Kirkpatrick is here. There are the starters Leon Hall and Nate Clements. The two new backups, Terence Newman and Jason Allen. Returning Adam Jones, now finally healthy. There is also 2010 third-rounder Brandon Ghee, the guy that wears No. 21 now. The most the Bengals will keep is six and maybe only five with Allen able to play both corner and safety.

"A lot of our first-round players that we have, most every team in the league didn't want them," Zimmer said. "But at one point someone rated them very high and most of the guys we have either coached them before or I know people that have coached them. So I know the kind of heart and character they have and those things are big for me."

Zimmer says that the oldest corners, Clements and Newman, will pass on what they know to the 22-year-old Kirkpatrick because, "Not only do they care about the guys on our team, they care about the younger players coming up."

But Kirkpatrick plays old. Those who watch tape, like former Bengals cornerback Artrell Hawkins, a Bengals Radio Network analyst, say it's obvious Kirkpatrick watches tape because it's clear he's prepared to play. It's no surprise to the minister.

"He's a hard worker. He's very competitive. He loves that game called football," Charles Kirkpatrick said. "I think he got a little of that from me. I have a little saying I tell him that I heard a long time ago. 'Once the task has begun, be it great or be it small, do it well or not at all.' "

Football is a religion for the son that grew up in the church. For the past 15 years the father has been the pastor at the non-denominational United Christian New Beginnings Ministry in their hometown of Gadsden, Ala., and he told him, "If I'm going to church, you're going to church," and of course that meant every Sunday. It also meant he was the drummer for the church's choir until he went to college.

And there have been various moments when the minister realized just how careful and often the son was listening to his sermons. Like the time he went to a football camp and he had a problem with a coach that the minister says was "mean" to Dre. But the son didn't talk back, he said, and then the coach was replaced.

"He told me, 'See, Daddy. I remember what you told me. No weapon formed against me shall prosper.' He was maybe 15."

Seven years later he plays tough and confident and with an edge. After watching his intensity and hitting on tape, Hawkins says "he's got flair."

But the sermons don't seem to be very far away. The minister has yet to write one for this Sunday, but since he always carries his Bible with him and they don't leave for Gadsden until Saturday morning, he will pen some of it Friday night.

"I'm not going to back down. I'm a man first," Dre Kirkpatrick said. "I'm not one of these guys that's going to get in a media battle with guys. I just play my game."

He has been doing it since he can remember. Ever since he cut the deal with the minister.


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