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Bengals CB Dre Kirkpatrick ready for his opportunity

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has faced a long road for an opportunity to become the team's starting cornerback. That opportunity is here and he plans to claim it.

John Grieshop/Getty Images

Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick has always projected emotion and confidence -- I remember one year seeing Kirkpatrick pacing on the sidelines during training camp determined to make an impact. Maybe it was frustration about being locked into the fourth position on the team's cornerback depth chart. Maybe he was working himself up so that when his number was called, he was in the proper frame of mind as a defensive warrior.

Kirkpatrick has always had the mindset of being a lethal weapon in Cincinnati's defense... those lack of opportunities has always been his biggest nemesis and durability issues in 2012 didn't help. Now entering his fourth season on a rookie contract that's set to expire next March, Kirkpatrick will take advantage of those opportunities that began to emerge late last year

Replacing an injured Terence Newman Newman as the starting cornerback in three of the final four games (including the Wild Card loss in Indianapolis, Kirkpatrick famously impacted Cincinnati's win over the Denver Broncos. After returning an interception 30 yards for a touchdown to give the Bengals a 37-28 fourth quarter lead, Kirkpatrick secured another pick with 1:07 remaining in the game to seal the win for the Bengals.

"I'm not saying I knew he was going to do that," Kirkpatrick said after the Bengals win. "The guy changes plays. He's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. When he came back to my side, I was waiting for the ball."

It was a career-changing moment: He secured two interceptions against a future hall of fame quarterback in front of a Monday Night Football audience for a team that was starving for a defining win in front of the country. Kirkpatrick closed out the season with enthusiasm, as he enters a contract year -- Cincinnati can trigger the fifth-year option in Kirkpatrick's contract prior to a May 3 deadline, which cost around $7.5 million in 2015.

Yet this path was hardly certain.

After the Cincinnati Bengals selected Dre Kirkpatrick in the first round of the 2012 NFL draft, he suffered an untimely knee injury prior to training camp, forcing him to miss the first seven regular season games. He made his NFL debut against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 4 but a concussion against San Diego, along with recurring knee issues, the team placed Kirkpatrick on season-ending Injured Reserve. He played five games that year with 43 total snaps on defense.

Those injuries have subsided and Kirkpatrick has only missed two games in the past two seasons. Yet the team's depth chart had become his biggest hurdle. Now with Newman in Minnesota, Kirkpatrick is securing his spot as one of the team's starting corners -- presuming that Jones sticks as the team's third cornerback (keeping his role as status quo) -- though rigorous offseason workouts with an encouraging promise for fans hoping for a pro bowl jump that someone with his talent projects.

Early morning grind with the best @dptraining1 #NoGrindNoShine #NoDaysOff #NYC

A video posted by Dre Kirkpatrick (@drepic6) on

His opportunity is here.