Speedy Jennings cranks corner battle

Kelly Jennings

It was a tough trade to make when it came to how highly the Bengals value Clinton McDonald's locker-room character and his rapid growth at defensive tackle. But on paper Monday's acquisition of speedy Seattle cornerback Kelly Jennings was a no-brainer.

"If he is what we expect, he has a chance to play 500-600 snaps, if not more," said head coach Marvin Lewis after Monday's practice. "It gives us more depth at a vital, vital spot in the NFL. It's a point where a guy (McDonald) may or may not have been on the (game day active list) to a guy (Jennings) that probably will be."

For the second time in eight days Monday the Bengals made a trade without Carson Palmer in an attempt to upgrade their secondary when they traded McDonald, a backup, for Jennings in just the Bengals' second player-for-player trade in the past 21 years.

The Bengals hope it works as well as the last one, when they dealt backup cornerback David Jones last Cutdown Day to Jacksonville for a conditional draft pick and Reggie Nelson, now one of the Bengals' starting safeties.

And defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer vowed after practice that the team "is still looking" after signing three defensive starters in free agency and trading for two backups.

Jennings, a big-time speedster, looks to be headed to the third corner on passing downs with 44 NFL starts heading into his sixth season since the Seahawks drafted him out of Miami of Florida with the next-to-last pick in the 2006 draft's first round. Jennings becomes the fourth Bengals first-rounder in the secondary, joining cornerbacks Leon Hall and Nate Clements, as well as Nelson. 

The 5-11, 180-pound Jennings, who has missed just two games in his career, has been a starter in two seasons, including last year when he started 14 games and had one of his two career interceptions with 13 passes defensed.

The Bengals have liked what Morgan Trent has done as the third corner, but he's also coming back from a knee injury. With Jennings purely an outside player, Trent's ability to move inside, along with the slot experience of starters Hall and Clements, as well as the versatility of the injured Adam Jones, gives them more flexibility with the arrival of Jennings.

Lewis confirmed Monday that it is likely Jones (neck) is going to miss the first six games of the regular season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list.

"When he gets back," Zimmer said, "we'll have a good set of corners."

Jennings is a burner who has earned a reputation as a hard, diligent worker with a great reputation in the locker room. After starting the first two preseason games, he was replaced in the starting lineup by CFL refugee Brandon Browner, but it is 2010 fourth-rounder Walter Thurmond that is projected to take his place.

With head coach (and chief of football operations) Pete Carroll's new regime looking for bigger corners and going through general house-cleaning of the roster built by Tim Ruskell, the buzz had been that Jennings might not make the club. But before Seattle re-signed him for one year during the offseason with a $200,000 signing bonus and a $1.8 million salary that Cincinnati picks up, the Bengals were looking at possibly signing him.

"He's had some good success against quality receivers," said secondary coach Kevin Coyle. "We did a lot of work on him. Whatever it takes to solidify that position, it's a good thing."

The trade leaves the secondary in even more of a roster scrum. The Bengals usually keep five or six corners and with Jones headed to PUP, four seem to be locks in Hall, Clements, Jennings and Trent. That would seem to leave veterans Jonathan Wade, Brandon Ghee and Rico Murray battling with seventh-rounder Korey Lindsey and first-year player David Pender.

Ghee, the third-rounder from 2010, has had a tough time getting any traction. He played in just six games last season before suffering a hamstring injury on the first day of this training camp. He didn't get back to practice full go until about a week ago and played a limited amount of snaps in his first game back on Thursday.

The Bengals drafted him because of his speed and athleticism, but they realize they've got little tape on him.

"It's hard (to judge him) right now. He hasn't had the game experience, the game opportunities. His experience last year was very limited," Coyle said. "He's a talented guy that has real athletic qualities that you like. You have to translate all those into how you perform on the field."

Coyle hammered that point home to his group before Monday's practice when he put on the board, "Potential is interesting. Performance is everything."

"That's the name of the game," Coyle said. "It's how you perform in the game. It's not how fast you run the 40. Or how much weight you lift. It's how you perform against that guy in the heat of the game and winning one-on-one battles out on the edge. There's a lot guys in this league that look awful good in this league running around in shorts. But when the games come they don't seem to have that feel. We're trying to find the guys that have those qualities that at game time they find a way to elevate their game."

And then there's an even more vicious scrum at safety, which took on more traffic last week with the trade for 49ers safety Taylor Mays. Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham reported on Thursday night's broadcast that the Bengals gave up a seventh-rounder in 2013 for him.

Along with Mays are starters Nelson and Chris Crocker, as well as a veteran in Gibril Wilson and a one-year man in Jeromy Miles along with fifth-rounder Robert Sands. That's six and the Bengals usually only keep four or five.

The trade of McDonald did seem to loosen up things on the D-line, where the Bengals usually keep eight on the roster and one on the practice squad.

In McDonald, the Bengals lose a pure tackle. While have they have the huge Jason Shirley that has been hard to move this preseason, they also have a veteran in Jon Fanene that can play both end and tackle in base, as well as three pure tackles in Domata Peko, Geno Atkins and Pat Sims.

"It's not my job to worry about who's on the bubble," Zimmer said.

The most seasoned eight would be Peko, Atkins and Sims at tackle, and Robert Geathers, Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson at end, along with Fanene swinging in the base and Frostee Rucker playing tackle on passing downs and end in both. But, as Zimmer indicated, nothing seems to be set.

"Clinton is a tremendous person. A good player. A good guy in the locker room," Zimmer said. "We'll miss him. He's one of the good guys to have on the team. It's one of these situations we have to try and get the team better. We felt that was a piece we can move around."

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