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2015 Bengals Position Previews: Cornerback

The Bengals have a glut of young talent at the cornerback position, but some are unproven. This group will be a very important key to the team in search of its fifth consecutive playoff berth.

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The one constant in the Cincinnati Bengals' resurgence the past decade, their defense, didn't resemble itself last season. Injuries and departures made the once-formidable front seven susceptible to the run at times, and a horrific pass-rush, once the staple of the Bengals' defense, was noticeably absent in 2014.

However, the secondary played well with the issues in the front of the defense. They limited big passing plays, as evidenced by their 13th ranked pass defense, and were third in the league with 20 interceptions on the season. Obviously, the safeties played a big role in the secondary's success, but the play of the corners has to be admired.

Adam Jones, Leon Hall and Terence Newman brought their veteran presences, while Dre Kirkpatrick got some late-season playing time and last year's rookie Darqueze Dennard got small tastes of the NFL game. The latter two will be relied on heavily in 2015.

Comings and Goings:

Departures: Terence Newman (MIN), Onterrio McCalebb (Position Change to WR)

Additions: Brandon Ghee (FA), Josh Shaw (Draft), Troy Hill (UDFA)

Newman was reunited with Mike Zimmer in Minnesota who engineered the veteran corner's renaissance in Cincinnati. He could have brought the Bengals another year or two of decent play, but it was definitely time for the Bengals to move in a younger direction. McCalebb remains one of the more interesting players on the roster because of his speed, but frustration builds due to of his inability to find an NFL niche.

Ghee might have an uphill climb to make the final 53-man roster, but his time in Cincinnati seemed to show his readiness to contribute at the NFL level, though injuries and other problems reared their head. He now has some experience playing safety, after a year away from the Bengals with the Titans, so that could benefit him, especially with the coaching staff loving versatility and the fact that roster spots will be at a premium.

One of the rookie at the position, Hill, is talented and a scrapper, but he's also small and has some off-field baggage. Some believe he will be carried as the final corner on the roster but it’s also possible he falls to the practice squad.

The Cast:

Starters, Dre Kirkpatrick, Adam Jones: Jones was the team's best corner last year and also added some spark on special teams. The way things are lining up, it sounds like Jones will start once again in 2015, with Kirkpatrick finally getting his chance as well. Geoff Hobson of joined us on Inside the Jungle a few weeks ago and said both looked good in minicamps. Jones may or may not be rotated in if the team decides to continue using him as a return man.

Slot Corners/Heavy Role Players, Leon Hall, Darqueze Dennard: As solid of a player and guy as Leon Hall has been since coming to the Queen City in 2007, last season may have been his worst as a pro. Obviously the guy has been an iron man in coming back from Achilles tears to each leg, but he seemed a step behind at times last year and had just one interception in 15 games played. Hobson noted that Hall will be a slot corner in 2015 with the occasional kick to the outside. Dennard will do some slot work as well, and he also will potentially be filling in for Jones if he's returning kicks on a frequent basis. Though Hobson lauded all of the cornerbacks on ITJ, he noted that Dennard is still more consistent than Kirkpatrick at this point, which is promising for the second-year guy.

Special Teamers And Fringe Roster Players: Brandon Ghee, Chris Lewis-Harris, Josh Shaw, Troy Hill: With the four corners listed above being locks, these four might be scrumming for only one or two more open spots. Vance Joseph, one of the Bengals' secondary coaches, is said to love Shaw and with his versatility. As a value fourth round draft pick,he's more than a likely candidate to make the squad. He's listed as a corner on the Bengals' current roster, but played extensive amounts of safety in college. He'll start off as a gunner on special teams, but won't see extensive defensive playing time until next year.

If there is only one more spot left, who do you give it to? The familiar guy in Ghee? A player who coaches love to have on their team because of his willingness to do whatever is asked of him in Lewis-Harris? Or the promising, but undersized young gun out of Oregon in Hill? The good news is all three of those guys would be back-end NFL roster guys for most teams in the league, so the Bengals will end up with a good man taking the final roster spot in this position group. The bad news is that good players will have to be shown the door.

2015 Outlook:

There is risk involved with leaning on unproven guys like Kirkpatrick and Dennard, but the talent is undeniable. Are the Bengals re-building the old Johnathan Joseph/Leon Hall type of tandem that was effective from 2007-2010? Kirkpatrick is the bigger, longer corner who is capable of the big plays a la Joseph, while Dennard is the solid technician and willing tackler like Hall. They'll have two veterans to surround themselves with and soak in all kinds of information, so that should help on a number of levels.

What should excite the team and its fans even more is the additions made on the front seven. After witnessing injuries and watching players recover slowly from a previous year's injury, the team made a concerted effort to stockpile the initial levels of the defense. Along with re-signing Rey Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur at linebacker, they brought in veteran A.J. Hawk and used a third round pick on P.J. Dawson. On the line, they brought in defensive end/tackle Marcus Hardison in the fourth round of the draft, along with Michael Johnson and Pat Sims in free agency.

What do these additions have to do with the cornerback position? Well, an improved pass rush forces poor and/or rushed throws, increasing the likelihood of a breakup or interception. Additionally, a re-emphasis of the run defense will force opposing offenses to become one dimensional and positively affect all levels of the defense. While there is some hesitation because of the unproven players at corner, a high level of cautious optimism remains.