The story has been written before.
A veteran suffers a season-ending injury, opening the door for a younger player to, not only make an impression, but to prove to everyone that he belongs.
Two years ago it was Thomas Howard's ACL injury that paved the way for linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
This year, the door of opportunity opens for second-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, who ended his rookie season on season-ending Injured Reserve. With cornerback Leon Hall expected to go on Injured Reserve next week, the red-shirt sophomore finally has a path set before him to prove that he belongs in this league and with Mike Zimmer's defense.
"I feel like I’m ready," said Kirkpatrick via FoxSportsOhio.com. "The coaches and staff, they’ve got me in and I’m just trying to do the best job that I can to try to manage and not over-exaggerate and get over-emotional about being thrown in the fire. This is what I do. This is my job. I have to be ready."
Cornerback Adam Jones, sliding into the starting lineup vacated by Hall's injury, believes in Kirkpatrick.
"I’m 100 percent confident in Dre," said Jones. "He played good last week. He came in and played good coverage. I know the one ball (Johnson) caught was a hell of a catch. Besides that, he’s playing really good."
Earlier this week, Lewis offered public motivation for Kirkpatrick and Brandon Ghee, arguing against signing someone of the street to replace Hall because he feels there's enough talent in the building.
"No, we don’t have to look for anybody," Lewis said. "We have a couple of guys that have to step up and play now. They've been sitting here on scholarship for a bit, now it’s time for them to go. The three hots in the cot, now it’s time to pay for play, let’s go."
Kirkpatrick had a horrible game against the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason. Along with allowing nine completions for 84 yards, a touchdown and a quarterback rating of 141.3, he missed several tackles and was called for two defensive pass interference penalties.
"Everybody is all nervous about Kirkpatrick. He got beat up pretty good by Dez Bryant and even a couple of their other guys," Zimmer said after the game. "If it's a real game, we're doing different things differently. He'll be fine. This is how you learn. You don't learn anything going out and shutting down a guy every time. Terence Newman, when he was a rookie, he had a couple of rough days. That happens in the NFL. They're playing against good players."
The problem is that Kirkpatrick hasn't been getting the experience needed to develop (whether it's injuries or a packed depth chart). In ten games played since being drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, Kirkpatrick has only participated on 67 defensive snaps (in two years!) -- including a season-high 10 snaps against the Detroit Lions.
Kirkpatrick has been working in the slot in recent weeks, which gives him an advantage when the Bengals decide to put him in the game more.
"We’ve just got to find places for guys to play and there are some things that he does in the slot that I like," said Zimmer of Kirkpatrick via FoxSportsOhio.com. "He’s a big, physical guy, which is good. He’s got good speed, if we decide to blitz him. If Leon was here we probably wouldn’t do it as much but we’ve been practicing it for a few weeks now. We’ve been giving him some reps in there."