Dre Kirkpatrick welcomes another young cornerback into his neck of The Jungle.
Everyone just assumed Dre Kirkpatrick felt the heat shield slipping off on Thursday night when Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard made a soft landing to the Bengals at No. 24 in the first round of the draft.
But Kirkpatrick said he told the Bengals to take a corner even though he's still looking for a regular spot two seasons after they took him in the first round.
"Guys are up in age. They're on their last legs," said Kirkpatrick Wednesday of the Bengals corners. "Not to knock those guys. They still work and they still compete. But I'm 24, the youngest out of the group. We need some young legs to come in."
Cornerbacks Terence Newman and Adam Jones may be turning 36 and 31 in September, respectively, and Leon Hall is 29 and coming off his second torn Achilles in three seasons. But Kirkpatrick knows this is a big year for him after playing 352 snaps in his first two seasons that were both marred by a lingering knee problem that was corrected by surgery last spring.
"First off, I'm healthy. Therefore I can start when everyone else starts," Kirkpatrick said. "Last year and my rookie year I didn't get the chance do all these things because I had injuries holding me back. Now I get to go out and compete with the other guys on the same level at the same time. I'm more ready than ever. I'm more focused than ever."
He'll need to be because none of the veterans have shown they're slowing up and now here comes Dennard being described as a Hall clone that can play both in the slot and on the outside.
"I actually was telling them that we needed a corner… I was happy we got a corner," Kirkpatrick said. "I'm still trying to get (to know Dennard). He's still kind of quiet. I went through that stage where I really wanted to keep to myself and figure everybody out. I'm going to welcome him with (open) arms and hopefully we can have a duo."
Last season Kirkpatrick played well at times and not so well at others while giving up three touchdowns. He particularly seemed to have trouble adjusting to the double move. But while he finished tied for 63rd in coverage by corners, according to profootballfocus.com, he also finished ahead of such notables as Aqib Talib and Charles Tillman, as well as fellow first-rounders Carlos Rogers and Dee Milliner, not to mention Stephon Gilmore, drafted ahead of him in 2012.
"Just working hard at the University of Alabama training and staying close to those guys," said Kirkpatrick of his first full healthy offseason as a pro. "I didn't want to get out far. I just wanted to stay focused on my job."
It's hard to lose sight of that when you walk into a position group and you're one of five first-round picks. Dennard's 24th selection is actually the lowest of the first-rounders with Kirkpatrick at No. 17, Hall at No. 18, and Newman and Jones in the top ten.
"(Dennard) better look at it as a challenge," said Kirkpatrick, who had the same kind of room. "When I first got here, I didn't get intimidated by it. It made me want to work even harder. Hopefully that's how he'll look at the situation as every day's a challenge. All these guys are still good. All those guys know what they're supposed to do. Every day I'm fighting for my job."