Over the weekend, WhoDeyWeekly host and Cincy Jungle contributor, Nick Seuberling, kicked off our top-ten keys to a successful Bengals season. In the well-done video, Seuberling focuses on the place kickers and what to hope and expect for there. We're moving on to No.9 which focuses on the secondary.
The cornerback group on the Bengals defense can ironically be labeled as both a weak spot and one of the deepest on the roster. It's a bit of a weak spot because there really aren't any known shut-down guys or game-changers in the mass of players. The Bengals don't have a Darelle Revis, Richard Sherman or the like on their team and, in truth, many of them are major beneficiaries of a defensive front that excels at getting pressure on the quarterback.
On the other hand, the group is filled with overachievers, reclamation projects and what-could-be's. Terence Newman and Adam Jones have experienced a renaissance in Cincinnati and there is huge upside with youngsters like Dre Kirkpatrick, Shaun Prater and Brandon Ghee. Though he isn't Sherman or Revis, Leon Hall is the linchpin of the group and has been highly-rated as a cornerback by ProFootballFocus.
The Bengals run a base nickel formation, which means that they often have three cornerbacks on the field at the same time. This is why they like their corners to be able to tackle, as they have to contribute in defending the run and this is a physical group.
WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN:
- Terence Newman needs to continue to be a band-aid for at least 2013. He played above-average football in 2012, giving the Bengals enough trust to sign him to a two-year deal this offseason. Because of injuries and lack of experience in the group, Newman started on the outside last year, with Hall and Jones playing both the outside and the slot.
- Dre Kirkpatrick needs to stay healthy and contribute. It's not so much that the Bengals need Kirkpatrick to start this year because he doesn't. With Newman and Jones having fresh, multi-year deals and Leon Hall in the fold for a while as well, Kirkpatrick doesn't need to be rushed into the starting lineup. But, with his rookie year being a redshirt one because of injuries, Kirkpatrick needs to flash his potential and get on the field in 2013 and instill confidence in the staff that he's their guy in the post-Newman era.
- Make a decision in the roster scrum between Prater and Ghee. Both of these guys impressed the coaches early last year, and both ended up on Injured Reserve. Ghee is on his last leg with the team and could be staring at unemployment, while Prater is coming off of a torn knee and has to do what is needed to solidify a roster spot. Either guy would make a fine No.5 or No.6 cornerback on any NFL roster, it's just that health is the issue. Technically, Prater can be placed on the Physically Unable To Perform List or the Practice Squad, if they want to keep both guys.
- Jones can only miss minimal time, should his recently legal scrape predicate a suspension by the NFL. By now we know they incident, but we don't know what the future holds, in terms of a suspension for Jones. If he does miss time, it affects the secondary and the punt return games. Though he didn't have any interceptions in 2012 and has only one to his credit in his three seasons as a Bengal, Jones had one of the most technically-sound seasons as a pro last year. Though he has had brief moments of being burned (especially by double-moves), Jones is still a valuable corner and one of the better slot guys in the league.
Hall, Newman, Jones and Kirkpatrick are locks for the first four spots. Depending on how the rest of the roster plays out, the Bengals should be keeping one extra guy. Even though there are a plethora of undrafted guys and the darkhorses in second-year man, Chris Lewis-Harris, as well as rookies Troy Stoudermire, Terence Brown and Onterio McCalebb, there will likely only be one or two more spots available beyond the four locks. The Bengals will likely try and get the rest on the practice squad, if they are eligible.
Cincy Jungle and WhoDeyWeekly contributor, Mickey Mentzer, broke down the position in his preview recently, so read that to check out more on the roster outlook.
PLAYER TO WATCH:
This has to be McCalebb. He was the fastest player at the Combine this February and is in the midst of a position transition from running back to cornerback. He made some strides in OTAs, but that is a far cry from Training Camp, preseason games and in the regular season. It's a tricky situation because if the Bengals attempt to sneak him on to the Practice Squad, he might get snatched up by another team. McCalebb's best route to the 53-man roster in the short-term is beating out Brandon Tate for the kick return job.
Barring injuries, this will be a familiar-looking group from 2012. Again, it will be a group of solid depth, but no true superstars. While they've gotten older by bringing back Newman and Jones, they are still extremely young with guys like Prater and Kirkpatrick. We think that they will continue to be opportunistic, thanks to the defensive front, but there likely won't be any Pro Bowlers from this group. Regardless, sorting through these talented guys and enuring that they keep the best five or six will be a big key to the team's success next year.