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Bengals eye depth with loss of Hall


Dre Kirkpatrick

Adam Jones broke down and wept when he saw what happened to Leon Hall early in Sunday's game in Detroit. Then he saw fellow cornerback Terence Newman crying and it got even worse.

"I lost my (stuff)," Jones admitted Monday. "I know me and T-New were looking at each other and we were like literally, tears were coming down our eyes. And he was like, 'Man, we've got to get it together.' But it kind of shook me the first two plays, I was like 'Oh my God.' But you've got to move on."

And that's where the Bengals are as they regroup without their best cover cornerback for the rest of the year as Hall recovers from what is feared to be a torn Achilles for the second time in 23 months on the other (right) foot.

Mentor, leader, All-Pro. Hall's got it all and everyone agrees around Paul Brown Stadium it can't get any more devastating.

But …

How many teams can line up with three first-round cornerbacks after losing their best one?

"Nobody said it was going to be easy, though," Jones said. "You're going to have nicks and knacks and things that happen. That's why I give the people upstairs a lot of respect. They've got a lot of guys who can play – in every position. I will say this is one of the deepest teams I've been on."

Newman was the fifth pick in the 2003 draft. Jones was the sixth pick in the 2005 draft. And now all eyes are on the next man up, Dre Kirkpatrick, the 17th pick in the 2012 draft who, according to Pro Football Focus has played 67 NFL snaps.

The Bengals are banking on the depth bailing them out of this one better than when Hall ripped the other Achilles, the left, on Nov. 13, 2011. That's when Newman was still in Dallas, Kirkpatrick was at Alabama, and Jones was trying to get healthy in just his second year in the system.

"We're all playing better than we were playing two years ago. I know I am," said Jones, who started in Hall's spot like he'll no doubt do this time.

"You can't come over here one week and learn the defense. It's no way you can do that. It takes you, to be comfortable, I'd say a year, to learn this defense. We do stuff so much different than the average team, and the regular Cover 3 is not the same. None of this stuff is the same defense.

"But I think we'll be alright. Of course we'll miss Leon. He made a whole bunch of plays, so there's no way you replace that guy. But there's a lot of guys in here that are just ready to step up."

Kirkpatrick played just 10 snaps Sunday as 11-year safety Chris Crocker took the bulk of the work in Hall's absence, particularly in nickel, where Hall is rated the No. 1 slot corner by Pro Football Focus. Crocker went from playing three snaps in Buffalo to 67 on Sunday. Kirkpatrick, who only played the outside at Alabama, had to play in the slot a few times Sunday because the Lions use a spread, a formation the Bengals won't see all that much. Crocker figures to be in the slot most of the time sandwiched between Newman and Jones.

But Kirkpatrick, hounded by injuries for his entire pro career until the past month, is the next man up and is learning and playing the slot just in case. The Bengals would also like to use Brandon Ghee, a 2010 third-round pick who has played fewer snaps than Kirkpatrick.

"We've had different guys go in there and Coach calls it and is drawing things and coming up with different ideas of how we want to play it and try to attack their scheme and what they're doing," said secondary coach Mark Carrier. "We've had different guys going. Obviously Crock's played. Terence has played in there. Taylor Mays has played there. We've had different guys over the course of the year play in that nickel spot. It's all about where we want to go with the game plan. ... We don't know what we're going to do yet. We're kind of working that out now."

The coaches like the 6-2 Kirkpatrick's length on both the outside and the inside and they're encouraged about how he stuck his nose in there against the incomparable Calvin Johnson. The 6-5, 240-pound Johnson still scored on Kirkpatrick on Sunday on a 27-yard back-shoulder floater even though Kirkpatrick was draped all over him. Minutes later Johnson pulled down a jump ball out of a tangle of three Bengals.

"It was just one of those plays. I look at my play and then I look at the second play that he made, so I was kind of all right about mine," Kirkpatrick said. "It was pretty cool just to be out there with a great player."

Carrier had some of those moments as a Pro Bowl safety in the '90s. He still remembers being "posterized" by a young thing named Randy Moss leaping over him much like Johnson did to everybody Sunday. Carrier maintains this is a different Kirkpatrick than the one that got sliced and diced by Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo so badly in Dallas during the preseason that it was painful.

"Leaps and bounds better. And it's ironic because after that situation in Dallas, one of the first persons to go up to him and share some things with him was Leon Hall," Carrier said. "He kind of let him know about his tough day he had back when he first came into the league. He said you can learn from it and get better from it, and I think Dre did. We had to go out there and get on (Johnson), and I thought he did a nice job."

Kirkpatrick says he'll never forget that Dallas game. He still watches the tape. And if he does forget, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer will remind him. That's why he looked at it as recently as two weeks ago.

"Zim was talking about it and I just went back and reminded myself I never want this feeling again," Kirkpatrick said. "Sour. It's a bitter taste.

"It was one of those games, one of those days a lot of great players have. You just have to continue to work through it and improve every day. I learned my lesson. I took my notes and I continue to still watch that game. Zim is always bringing it up to remind me. I know what it feels like and I don't want to have that feeling anymore."

Jones lived through that in 2011 and while he's been beaten a few times this year, he held up very well against Megatron. The Lions went after Jones with Johnson on that last series but didn't get it to him.

"He had a real good, consistent game," Carrier said of Jones. "He worked on some things in practice and brought them to the game and did a nice job. He had a real solid game. He was laughing on the sideline and enjoying it. He was welcoming the challenge of (No.) 81."

Now, two years later, Jones has to be the savvy veteran. Hall is what he calls his "study buddy." Held back in the past by inconsistent technique, Jones worked extremely hard on that part of his game.

"We've had to depend on Adam. He's come to play and when he's played with technique and the proper levels and footwork he's done a nice job. He's played well and I expect him to play even better," Carrier said.

"We've got the guys that we have to be able to plug someone in and still kind of run our defense. Still be out there competing and covering guys. When you lose a guy for the year that's tough because now you're going into your depth and new guys have to step up."

But Carrier noted how Hall played only 20 of the 70 or so snaps Sunday as the defense began the healing process. Head coach Marvin Lewis said after the game the Bengals had to use some bailing wire to make it stay together.

Now it looks like they're using some blood sweat and tears, too.

"I just hope (Hall) can stay around and keep feeding us the knowledge that he's got and helping us out with studying," Jones said. "The guy is a genius when it comes to studying. He was my study buddy. Our standards here, words can't explain how much."

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