When the Cincinnati Bengals drafted two first round cornerbacks in a two-year span, it seemed obvious that a shift to youth would happen at some point. That shift has been slow, but 2015 seems to be a true start of youth in the defensive backfield. The needle is mainly pointing to Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard at corner, but there are other talented players who don't have the first round billing of those two.
Sixth-round safety Derron Smith, fourth-round swing guy Josh Shaw and even the undrafted Oregon corner Troy Hill are all vying for final roster spots and playing time. Bengals.com head man Geoff Hobson joined the Inside the Jungle podcast crew of Nick Seuberling, Mickey Mentzer, Anthony Cosenza and Scott Bantel to talk about the team's defensive backs among many other topics.
MM: My next question was about the DBs and Leon Hall. I know that they've moved him around a little bit in the workouts and I think it's probably just to show different looks...I'm a Buckeye, but I'm a huge Leon Hall fan and I'm just wondering--are we watching a guy that's going to come back and have a strong year, or are we watching a guy who's on the tail end of a decent career?
GH: Well, I think he's going to have a hard time getting on the field just because of how (Darqueze) Dennard and (Dre) Kirkpatrick are playing. Whether he's flipping or not, you're talking about a guy who's 30 years old in the last year of his deal and you've got these two first round picks. You don't have to be a genius to see where the wind is blowing there. But, I still think that Leon has a value on this team and that's why they haven't cut him or asked him to take a pay-cut or anything like that. He's still a good slot corner and he can play anywhere, as you saw in the OTAs, in the nickel and dime. He's so versatile, so I still think he's got value. Whether he's that elite guy in 2012, who basically carried that defense on his back and was the MVP of that team in 2009 with Jonathan Joseph--they were the MVPs of that division sweep. I don't think he's that guy, but he can be a valuable spot player for them. But, to me the wind is clearly blowing to Dennard and Kirkpatrick and that's no shot at Leon, he's still a very valuable slot corner, but they're trying to get those other guys snaps.
NS: So, you've seen Dre have a pretty good camp over the last few weeks, Geoff, we've heard a lot of good things about Dennard as well, but speak about Kirkpatrick. This is a guy who, through his first few years in the NFL, really struggled to see the field, whether it be because of where he was on the depth chart, we obviously know about his injury history as well, what's the future look like for him in 2015? Is he, right now, going to be a starter with no questions?
GH: Well, I don't know because Adam Jones is still playing some great ball. At the end of the year, Adam Jones was their best corner and I didn't see anything in the spring that would say anything different. So, there are three really good corners there and two of them can only start, but I think they're going to probably rotate. I think Dre's had a pretty good spring, you know? He's not as consistent maybe as Adam (Jones) and Darqueze (Dennard), but he's a real "want-to guy", he's so lean and gives guys problems when he covers them and he might not be as consistent as the other guys, but he's still got some good instincts...I think he's really flourished under (defensive backs coach) Vance Joseph, and right now I think that they have three corners vying for that starting spot. Like I said, Dre's got to be more consistent and going into his fourth year, I think that this is his year. He really likes Vance (Joseph) and the system. It's a big year for him too, yes they did exercise the (fifth-year) option on him, but they can pull it before free agency. So, they're committed to paying him a pretty big piece of change, but you still have to play.
AC: Geoff, I have a couple of questions on the draft picks, but I'll start with one guy I was particularly intrigued with. He's a USC guy, Josh Shaw. I envision him kind of being a swing player in this defense, maybe a slot corner and backup safety initially. I'm curious as to how he has looked so far and your initial impressions of him at minicamp.
GH: My initial impressions were really terrific and he's got great size and good presence. He got nicked up a little bit, had some time off in the mandatory with some nicks, but, you know, he's learning the position. I think you're right, I think that they can use him in a bunch of spots, he's really got safety size. That's the thing that's so impressive, you talk about a guy (Brandon) Browner, and there's Josh Shaw. I think he's going to be pretty good. I think they're really high on him--I know Vance is extremely high on him. Just the sheer numbers, you know, what he runs. Here's a guy that's a 4.4 (40-yard dash) guy, maybe less than that, and he's so big and he can run and he can cover. So, I think maybe, you know like all rookie corners, it's a little bit of an adjustment to the speed of the game. But I thought he looked pretty good. When he was in there, he looked pretty good. There's a cap there now, between those four guys, four pretty good corners and I think he's going to have a hard time getting on the field from scrimmage. But, I think they view him as a guy who could be a very good (special) teams player too. I think he's a guy who steps in and with Dre, who was one of the top gunners in the league, Shaw's going to have to step in there. That's kind of Shaw's deal, he's a really good teams player. So, I think that's what you'll see from Josh. I think like everything else, it'll take time, but I'm with you--I really like that pick. Because the only thing is that weird incident, but that was the only nick on the kid--the thing with the jumping off of the balcony right before his senior year. Other than that, this guy's a high pick--maybe a first round pick.