CB Dre Kirkpatrick gets bigger role with Bengals

Cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick walked past one of his Cincinnati

Bengals teammates in the locker room and summed up his week to

everyone within earshot.

”Showtime!” he said loudly.

Yes. It finally is.

The first-round draft pick is moving up the Bengals’ depth

chart, one that’s been a steep climb for him. With starting

cornerbacks Leon Hall and Terence Newman sidelined by injuries, the

playmaker from Alabama’s national championship teams gets to move

into a bigger role with the playoffs on the line.

Cincinnati (9-4) is closing in on the AFC North title. The

Bengals can clinch it if they win in Pittsburgh on Sunday night and

second-place Baltimore loses in Miami on Monday night.

”I feel I’m doing pretty good, just taking it one day at a

time,” Kirkpatrick said. ”Like I said, it’s just baby steps. It’s

all about baby steps right now.”

The Bengals expected him to move into a starting role quickly

when they took him with the 12th overall pick last year. He was

hurt for most of his rookie season, sidelined by a chronic knee

injury and a concussion.

He’s been healthy most of this season, but has been limited on

the field because Hall, Newman and Adam ”Pacman” Jones played so

well. Kirkpatrick has been on the field for only 15 percent of the

defense’s plays, spending most of his times on special teams.

”Terence and Leon (Hall) and Adam (Jones) were able to hold Dre

at bay,” coach Marvin Lewis said. ”It’s been hard, but they had a

big stiff-arm on him and trying to keep their jobs from him. And

frankly, they’ve been great mentors for him.

”So yeah, he’ll get obviously an opportunity to expand his

role.”

The defense has overcome several significant injuries and

remained one of the league’s best. It needs Kirkpatrick to uphold

the standard.

Hall, the Bengals’ top cornerback, tore his right Achilles

tendon during a 27-24 win at Detroit on Oct. 20. Newman hurt his

left knee during a 42-28 win over the Colts on Sunday and will be

sidelined this week in Pittsburgh.

That means Kirkpatrick has to move into a full-time role.

”I like how he’s progressed,” Hall said on Wednesday.

”Obviously he’s had some injuries but anytime he’s been out there

– whether it’s out there the little bit of time he’s had on the

field or whether it’s in practice – he’s done well.

”And anything he hasn’t done well, he’s one of those guys who

asks about it, asks what he did wrong, asks how he can get better.

So that’s a trait you like to see.”

Kirkpatrick didn’t get on the field for more than 10 plays on

defense in any of the first seven games. He played 27 the week

after Hall was hurt, but was on defense for only 20 plays in the

next two games combined.

He played a season-high 29 plays on defense during a 41-20 win

over Cleveland, but gave up a 74-yard touchdown catch by Josh

Gordon. He had 25 plays on defense against the Colts.

Kirkpatrick knows that Ben Roethlisberger is likely to challenge

him on Sunday night.

”But hopefully I can put that to a stop early,” he said.

The defense ranks eighth overall after one of its worst

showings. The Bengals allowed Andrew Luck to become only the second

quarterback to throw for 300 yards against them this season.

Luck threw four touchdown passes in the second half. He

completed a slant pass that Da’Rick Rogers took 69 yards for a

touchdown and another short pass that LaVon Brazill turned into a

19-yard touchdown by slipping through the hands of six

defenders.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict said defensive coordinator Mike

Zimmer showed them eight plays on Wednesday that he deemed

unacceptable, and made his point loudly.

”You’d probably have to put some earplugs in,” Burfict

said.

NOTES: RG Kevin Zeitler, who missed the last three games with an

injured right foot, fully practiced on Wednesday, a sign he’ll be

ready to play in Pittsburgh. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis missed

practice because of an illness. … The Bengals will take a bus to

the University of Cincinnati’s covered practice field on Thursday.

Temperatures in the teens are forecast for the morning. Cincinnati

is the NFL’s most northern team without its own covered practice

field.

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org