The Bengals took six cornerbacks and four safeties into the regular season last year. And it appears that they'll have to cut some talent if they are going to carry the same number of corners into the regular season this year. Heavy with talent from the veterans, the Bengals introduced two rookie free agents and moved one undrafted free agent running back to corner.
Last season was interesting for the defensive backfield. While there was a ton of pressure being applied on opposing quarterbacks, the defense did not record an interception until the fourth regular season game and that was after they re-signed Chris Crocker. We watched as Dre Kirkpatrick never made the impact that we hoped for in the draft, largely due to injuries.
Leon Hall anchors the group as the best corner on the roster. A lone bright spot in the playoffs last season with his pick-six that breathed some life into the Bengals chances for a little while. An even bigger interception was his pick-six in week 16 in Pittsburgh. There's no question that Hall is the top cornerback and will enter the season without much contest for that title.
Who starts opposite Hall? Chances are that it's Terrence Newman's to lose. A guy that has been to the Pro Bowl twice with 34 career interceptions. The hope is that Dre Kirkpatrick is healthy from the knee injury and plays like the top first-round we had expected to see from the start. Shaun Prater will push the restart on his career as well, after missing his entire rookie season with an injury.
Putting all legal issues aside and assuming he makes the team in spite of that, Adam Jones would be the nickle corner. Or at the very least as the third cornerback on the field, shifting Hall to the slot like much of the second half in 2012. Jones flashes his talent at times, making the team better during passing downs, and is a huge performer returning punts.
The three undrafted guys that signed, Terrence Brown, Troy Stoudermire and Onterio McCalebb have to really impress to crack the roster. The interesting talent to watch will be McCalebb. He was a running back in college that the Bengals decided to move over to cornerback. He's extremely fast and has the potential to contribute on special teams, depending on how well he makes the transition from offense to defense.
Cincinnati's cornerback roster is a strong group that will improve once guys heal. It seems that the four locks on the 53-man roster are Hall, Newman, Kirkpatrick and Jones. This leaves the remaining six fighting for two spots. Do the Bengals look to keep one of the new faces or are they comfortable keeping Chris Lewis-Harris who actually recorded two tackles last season? Will Ghee have a healthy training camp and preseason to earn a spot or has that ship sailed?
With the pressure that the defensive line generates in the passing game, along with the talent at cornerback, the Bengals are going to be strong on defense again this year. Provided that they stay healthy.