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Matchup of the Game: turning the Tide


No. 27 was the 17th pick in the draft, courtesy of the Raiders.   


An intriguing matchup all the way around in Sunday's opener (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Oakland. And not just because they are Nick Saban products out of Alabama.

Kirkpatrick is the first-round pick (No. 17 in 2012) the Raiders gave up as part of the trade for quarterback Carson Palmer. The man who swung that deal for Oakland with Bengals president Mike Brown, then Raiders head coach Hue Jackson, was fired after that 2011 season and ended up the next year taking the struggling rookie Kirkpatrick under his wing as a Bengals defensive assistant.

"That was a tough year and Hue really helped me," Kirkpatrick says. "He talked to me like a father."

Now things are more like it. Jackson, establishing himself again as a future head coach, is the Bengals offensive coordinator while the 25-year-old Kirkpatrick makes his first Opening Day start.

"But he's played,' says cornerbacks coach Vance Joseph. "He's come up watching great corners here, so he knows what it looks like."

And the 6-2, 190-pound Kirkpatrick knows what the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Cooper looks like. He never practiced against him at 'Bama, but Kirkpatrick has watched his pre-season tape, where Cooper emerged as the real thing as the fourth pick in the draft.

With eight catches for 124 yards this summer, that's not quite what Cooper did for Alabama in last year's opener against West Virginia. Kirkpatrick, who was at that game Cooper racked up 130 yards on 12 catches, also put that film on this week. Despite the numbers, he liked the way the Mountaineers approached Cooper.

"They did a good job putting their hands on Amari," Kirkpatrick says. "At the end of the day you have to realize he's better than a normal rookie and you have to attack him like he's an elite receiver."

Kirkpatrick compares him in style to Baltimore's Steve Smith, who is shorter and slower than Cooper but has the same kind of tenacity.

"Just his attitude. He's not going to say a lot. But his heart. It shows in his play," Kirkpatrick says.  "He's very aggressive.  He likes the contact and I saw it against Arizona when he played Pat Peterson. He pretty much took it to him. . . . He likes contact. I like contact."

A press corner vs. a top five wide receiver. Here we go. Those days where Kirkpatrick seemed to bite on every other double move seem to be gone. He got them into the playoffs with the pick-six against Hall-of-Famer Peyton Manning last year and the year before that he got their playoff charge started when he swiped a first down red-zone pass out of the hands of Hall-of-Fame tight end Antonio Gates.

It might be Kirkpatrick's first Opening Day start, but it's not his first rodeo.

"He's got long arms and good long speed. He's a press corner. We've to press him," Joseph says. "It's a combination of technique and patience. Eye placement is everything. If you see the route happening and it's real, you go get it. If it's not, you stay back. As long as his eyes are right, he'll be fine. . . . And he's a guy who is always watching film."

Kirkpatrick says he'll pick Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron's brain about Cooper, but he prefers looking at the tape more than anything.

"He's fast. Yeah. NFL fast," says McCarron of his college target. "He's a good route runner. He'll go up and attack the ball. He plays real fast and he plays hard. And he can run."

Kirkpatrick says it won't be normal if he doesn't have a few nerves, but he certainly won't be nervous.

 "It's just excitement. Anxious to get on the field," Kirkpatrick says. "I thrive off when it gets interesting. When the smack talk and the intensity gets raised, I get more focused.  I haven't played against him. I haven't played with him. We'll find out Sunday."

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