CINCINNATI – Marvin Lewis balled up his right hand into a fist and gently knocked it against his noggin last Friday. He was reacting to the point that the Bengals had just three players listed on the weekly injury report, and all were probable to play against the Detroit Lions.
Lewis should’ve knocked a little harder.
The Bengals lost cornerback Leon Hall to a right Achilles injury in the first quarter of their 27-24 win at Ford Field. Hall was their best defensive back but now the Bengals will have to do without him. They have yet to make the procedural transaction of placing him on season-ending injured reserve but that is a matter of time. He is already listed as out for this week’s game against the Jets.
Adam Jones will move into Hall’s spot as the starter opposite Terence Newman but how the Bengals lineup up in the nickel and dime packages will change. Safety Chris Crocker played in the slot last weekend but replacing Hall won’t be a simple player-for-player swap. At the top of list to get more playing time is cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
Last year’s top draft pick had his rookie season stripped away to near nothing because of a variety of injuries. While his playing time has been limited this season, mostly due to the play of those ahead of him, Kirkpatrick is poised to get his first significant action.
Poised, excited but also tempered. This opportunity isn’t about Dre Kirkpatrick. This opportunity is about Dre Kirkpatrick showing he can be an integral part of a Bengals defense that is bigger than any one player.
“I feel like I’m ready,” said Kirkpatrick. “The coaches and staff, they’ve got me in and I’m just trying to do the best job that I can to try to manage and not over-exaggerate and get over-emotional about being thrown in the fire. This is what I do. This is my job. I have to be ready.”
Kirkpatrick was full of emotion during training camp. He was ready to put 2012 behind him and ready to show people he was worthy of the first round pick the Bengals spent on him. A poor preseason game at Dallas in which he was called for two pass interference penalties, gave up a touchdown pass against Dez Bryant and then was the first of many to miss tackling DeMarco Murray on a touchdown pass, was a reminder that emotion only goes so far.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer uses that game as a reminder to Kirkpatrick. He said he last looked at that game tape two weeks ago.
“I know what it feels like and I don’t want to have that feeling anymore,” said Kirkpatrick. “Sour. It’s a bitter taste.”
Kirkpatrick was in for 10 snaps against the Lions, some playing in the slot. He was beaten for a 27-yard touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Calvin Johnson, a throw into a tight coverage window that somehow made it past both Kirkpatrick and Crocker and into the hands of Johnson.
“I’m 100 percent confident in Dre,” said Jones. “He played good last week. He came in and played good coverage. I know the one ball (Johnson) caught was a hell of a catch. Besides that, he’s playing really good.”
The Bengals played two previous games this season without Hall; the 17-6 loss at Cleveland and the 13-6 win against New England. Kirkpatrick didn’t play against the Browns because of a hamstring injury and saw just three defensive snaps against the Patriots.
“We’ve just got to find places for guys to play and there are some things that he does in the slot that I like,” said Zimmer. “He’s a big, physical guy, which is good. He’s got good speed, if we decide to blitz him. If Leon was here we probably wouldn’t do it as much but we’ve been practicing it for a few weeks now. We’ve been giving him some reps in there.”
Vontaze Burfict got thrown into the fray early last season when Thomas Howard suffered a torn ACL. He didn’t have much time to be afraid of the situation. Neither will Kirkpatrick or anyone else that ends up filling Hall’s shoes.
“I took it as ‘Man, this is the last day for me. Go out there and play, you don’t know what’s going to happen after that,’” said Burfict. “If I play badly then I possibly won’t be in the spot anymore. Whoever it is, I’m pretty sure they’re ready to go. All 10 of us have his back on the field and will make sure he does the right thing.”