The Bengals secondary will enter training camp a vastly different team to the one that capitulated in Houston back in January, and with a first-round pick amongst the faces, the expectation to see Dre Kirkpatrick start is building.
Given recent talk about whether the Bengals will cut veteran corner Nate Clements, the question arises as to whether Dre Kirkpatrick could start on opening day.
For those who believe so, the departure of Clements could spell disaster for this scenario. Leon Hall's injury status remains up in the air as he continues to rehab his torn achilles, and given the Bengals' offseason CB frenzy, you would be forgiven for assuming that Marvin Lewis is more than a little concerned.
Veteran free-agent acquisitions Jason Allen and Terence Newman have added depth, though neither are currently playing to the standard of Nate Clements. Adam Jones got himself a new deal, but is likely to spend most of his time returning kicks and punts if Brandon Tate is sent packing as expected.
So how does Dre Kirkpatrick fit into all of this, and could he start?
The likely answer is no, but it might not be the right decision.
The NFL is undoubtedly moving towards a consensus that sees first-round players learn on the job rather than learn from the bench. Big money brings an expectation of big things, and while rookie salaries have been scaled back, the pressure is still there.
Dre Kirkpatrick is no exception. Andy Dalton and A.J Green have shown what can be done with a little trial by fire, and Kirkpatrick should follow suit.
If Kirkpatrick does what he is supposed to in the offseason, it would make more sense to start him and replace him with a veteran if he struggles. If the Bengals start a veteran on day one and don't get results, replacing them by throwing Dre in at the deep end will only make the situation worse and hurt his development in the process.
The ideal situation for Cincinnati may well be to start Hall and Clements with Kirkpatrick replacing the latter in 2013. However, if Hall is not ready to start, the Bengals need to give the nod to the man known as 'Swagga.'
Kirkpatrick is a good shutdown corner and, while his coverage skills are patchy, he makes up for it with physicality and awareness. Regardless of what happens in the next few months, Kirkpatrick will likely take the nickel role from the off, and if he really impresses, he could and should compete for the No. 2 spot too.
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