Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard have one prize in mind -- becoming starters in the NFL. The issue is available opportunities with one significant role remaining after after Terence Newman departed for Minnesota during free agency. Adam Jones and Leon Hall are projected as two of the team's primary cornerbacks -- Cincinnati essentially plays a base 4-3 but plays a majority of their snaps in nickel (4-2-5). That leaves Kirkpatrick and Dennard to fight for one position.
"The job's wide open," said Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther via ESPN. "You can never have enough good corners to go. [Dennard] is battling his ass off for a spot, and it's good competition for everybody."
We imagine the competition is not unlike the 1:33 mark in this:
Dennard only played 61 snaps on defense last year, which Guenther admitted in February was a mistake.
"I probably should have gotten him on the field more. But it's tough when you have Leon [Hall], you have Pac [Adam Jones], you have Terence [Newman]. But sometimes you've got to be around those guys for you to learn really what it's like to do it."
For his part, the second-year cornerback is learning to become a pro:
"I understand the total defense," said Dennard of the difference between last spring and this one. "I wasn’t using my help as much as I should. Now I underdstand what to give up. What the strengths of the defense are, what is it supposed to do, what is it trying to do? I’m more understanding of the game."
Now Dennard expects to start and added earlier this year that he "smells blood in the water."
So does Dre Kirkpatrick, who gained national notoriety with two fourth quarter interceptions against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos last season.
Kirkpatrick has always had the mindset of being a lethal weapon in Cincinnati's defense... the lack of opportunities have always been his biggest nemesis and durability issues in 2012 didn't help either. Now entering his fourth season on a rookie contract that will expire after the 2016 season, Kirkpatrick will take advantage of those opportunities that began to emerge late last year
Replacing an injured Terence 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.