Paul Guenther got another cornerback for training camp.
The Bengals are in the kick-the-tires mode of the offseason and on Tuesday that meant they agreed to a one-year deal with a young but experienced cornerback in former Panther Bene Benwikere.
Benwikere, a fifth-round pick of the Panthers in 2014 who played nearly 800 snaps for the 2015 NFC champs, agreed to a one-year deal, according to multiple reports. After a stunning release four games into last season and following it up with stints on the practice squads in Miami and Green Bay, he's ready for a fresh start.
"This year was a tough year," Benwikere admitted Tuesday evening. "I got the new role, tried to understand it, correct it, and do the right thing and it didn't work out. It's a new opportunity where basically I'm trying to re-identify myself for this year."
He'll have to identify himself to the coaches first because the new guys, whether they're going to be veterans or draft picks or undrafted, are just names on a depth chart on the Bengals' road to a full training camp roster. The 6-0, 195-pound Benwikere is a guy the Bengals liked in that draft they took Darqueze Dennard with the 24th pick. They may end up seeing him as a slot corner, but he has also taken most of his snaps on the outside.
When Benwikere was cut this past Oct. 7 he was claimed by three clubs and awarded to Miami before the Dolphins cut him Nov. 8 without getting into a game and then re-signed him to the practice squad. Then he surfaced on the Green Bay practice squad for the playoffs.
"He's like everyone else we bring in. He starts at the bottom of the ladder," Guenther said. "We're doing due diligence and trying to make our training camp competitive. He played a lot for the Carolina team that went to the Super Bowl, he's got position versatility, and he's a smart guy."
Benwikere reportedly visited four clubs this offseason before choosing the Bengals. On Monday he said he met and spoke with Guenther, as well as secondary coaches Kevin Coyle and Robert Livingston.
"I walked around and met the staff and I just really enjoyed the atmosphere," Benwikere said. "The vibe I got I felt it was a little more homey than the other visits."
He has seen this defense in action and thought he'd be a good fit.
"(Guenther) asked me what I knew about the defense and the organization and I told him when I watch you guys play Pittsburgh, when I watch you guys play the Ravens, when I watch you guys multiple times I know everyone is running to the ball and playing fundamentally. They love turnovers and that's something I want to be a part of. That's my main focus. They have real enforcers that can make plays. I'll come in and try both spots (corner and slot) and they said, 'We'll see what fits you best. Let's try and make it work.' That's the goal. I don't want to limit myself to just playing the slot or just playing the outside."
When No. 1 cornerback Josh Norman fled Carolina for Washington, the Panthers drafted three rookie corners to put around Benwikere last spring. Benwikere, who played 37 percent of his snaps in the slot while starting four games in 2015, had been rated by profootballfocus.com the 17th best corner in the NFL as a rookie and the 50th in a 2015 season he never saw the postseason because he broke his leg in December.
But when he fell to a No. 178 ranking after the fourth week of this past season, the Panthers didn't let him dig out of the hole and cut him the Friday after PFF charted him for allowing 220 of Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones' 300 yards in Carolina's 48-31 loss.
"A lot of things went wrong in that game," Benwikere said. "We had one guy on him and he ended up getting hurt. We had another guy on him and then I went on him and at the end of it my name gets the torch for it and that's kind of what it was."
But Benwikere, who turns 26 the week before the opener on Sept. 3, said he learned plenty from the move.
"It was a new role and with each new role it gets bumps and bruises and I just happened to get a big bump and big bruise when it came to me," Benwikere said. "I was a leader to a young group. I never had a leadership role and I thought I was doing it the right way.
"One thing I realized being in this loop is the leader just isn't a person that says, 'You do your assignment, I'll do my assignment, it's all good.' The leader has to make sure he's doing his assignment and then make sure he's always overseeing the other assignments to make sure they're good as well. I thought it was leading by example by going through my assignments, but I should have been able to do my assignment and help the other assignments."
Benwikere embraced the leadership role, but he says if the two starting veteran corners in Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick come back (which is the CW), that should take some pressure off.
"They're good players. I'm a good player," Benwikere said. "In the end we'll compete in training camp trying to make everyone better and we'll see what happens."
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