HOUSTON, TX - JANUARY 07: Wide receiver Andre Johnson #80 of the Houston Texans is unable to make a catch against cornerback Nate Clements #22 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the second quarter during their 2012 AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Reliant Stadium on January 7, 2012 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Which position battle will be the most, shall we say, delightful to watch this training camp? I might question you if you answer quarterback or punter/kicker. Any other answer and I probably won't debate you much. The top two answers would probably be receiver and cornerback. Pro Football Focus would answer with the latter, cornerback.
The Bengals drafted Dre Kirkpatrick and Shaun Prater, while signing veterans Terence Newman and Jason Allen. Including Nate Clements and Adam Jones, the Bengals have five former first round picks at the cornerback position. Former third round pick Brandon Ghee looked good at OTA's and will also get a shot to make the team. Pro Football Focus had this to say about the upcoming battle at cornerback:
"As many things as there were to like about the Cincinnati defense in 2011, the secondary was not one of them with only Leon Hall (+1.4) finishing the season with a positive grade. Hall’s starting spot at one of the cornerback spots is safe, provided he is healed from an Achilles injury that he sustained last November. If so, the question then becomes who will start opposite him? Clements is the incumbent starter and was the only Bengals defensive back with a positive grade against the run last season. In coverage, however, he gave up four touchdowns and allowed an average of 13.0 yards per reception. That leaves him open to competition from new signees Newman and Allen and rookie Kirkpatrick. There has even been some speculation that Clements salary could lead to him becoming a cap casualty if the Bengals have enough faith in the new additions."
"After using the 17th overall pick on him in April’s NFL Draft, the Bengals clearly plan on having Kirkpatrick in the starting line-up at some point, how quickly it happens however remains to be seen. Newman started 2011 well and graded out positively in coverage in five of the first seven games he played in. The second half of the season was not so impressive though, with a horrible Week 17 game on the road against the New York Giants proving to be the lowlight. Allen struggled early in his career after being drafted in the first round back in 2006 by the Miami Dolphins; however he flashed good form in the second half of last season in Houston, giving up just 17 receptions and two touchdowns from Week 10 through the playoffs. We’ve seen flashes before from him, however, and he normally reverts back to the form that saw him benched in the first place."
Pro Football Focus sees the most likely candidate to be the starter opposite Leon Hall, as Nate Clements:
"On paper, Clements should have enough to beat out both Newman and Allen, although he will need to show that his play in coverage last season was not a sign that he is nearing the end of his career. The X-Factor is Kirkpatrick: can he start from Day 1? In the end, Clements’ saving grace could be his play in the slot, where he performed admirably last season."
Clements played better than most expected last season and still was solid against the run. It will be interesting to see if Newman can regain his form from a few years ago and unseat Clements. Kirkpatrick may end up being the best option to start opposite Hall, but will he be ready? This might just be the one battle to watch this August.