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NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - INSIDE SLANT
A standard Marvin Lewis philosophy during his tenure in Cincinnati has been that a team cannot have enough quality, first-round cornerbacks.
Even he might be testing the theory this year.
The Bengals now boast five first-round cornerbacks, all of whom probably could start for half the teams around the league. Terence Newman (2003), Leon Hall (2007), Adam Jones (2006), Dre Kirkpatrick (2012) and Darqueze Dennard (2014) all entered the league with an elite pedigree and fill a convoluted secondary.
Kirkpatrick and Dennard will be counted on to take the cornerbacks into the distant future, but for the 2014 version this will be the most competitive, talented group on the team.
"It's going to be what it should be in camp, it's going to be competition," said Bengals new co-defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.
The addition of Jim Thorpe Award winner Dennard only increases the depth of the battle. Cincinnati will have the luxury to slow him into the rotation, but if he plays anywhere near the effectiveness he did shutting down receivers at Michigan State he could be knocking on the door for snaps from any and all of other four corners.
Hall recovered from his second Achilles injury in three years and is progressing well with all signs pointing toward capability to go full on the first day of camp. Coaches plan to limit the reps for 35-year-old Newman to keep the focus on keeping his body fresh for opening day. The arrival of Dennard provides insurance for all of the above and pushes Kirkpatrick to the next step as a top NFL corner Bengals coaches have been waiting to see since he was selected No. 17 overall.
A veteran, understanding room will be ideal for Dennard and his youth beneficial for them. Nobody expects his arrival to cause friction.
"You've got guys in the room who have been first-round picks and are secure in themselves," Joseph said. "That's important. They all understand the business. Terence is in his thirties, Adam's in his thirties, Leon's going to be 30. They understand this draft pick was for the betterment of the team for the future."
Where will the snaps go once Cincinnati takes the field in Baltimore? Assuming Hall's recovery continues, he'll be a starter with Newman opposite. Among the most underrated player on the Bengals third-ranked defense last season, Newman's stereotype-busting athleticism for his age allowed him to combine veteran intelligence with speed.
Jones acquitted himself well when Newman missed the final three games of last year as the team's top corner. He could push for playing time as camp nears. At the very least, the depth at the position could allow him to spend more time as a punt returner. His role was limited there last year because of his importance as the top remaining healthy corner.
Behind them will be the battle for Kirkpatrick and Dennard both to prove themselves. Kirkpatrick started the final three games and playoff loss to San Diego. He finished the year with three interceptions, including a pick-6 in the season finale, but often found himself on the wrong side of a double move.
The time is now.
"Yeah, every day is a challenge, constantly," Kirkpatrick said. "You've got to think: all those guys are still good. You've got to think that all those guys still know what they're supposed to do and all those guys are able to still do what they're supposed to do. So every day I'm out there fighting for my job."
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - NOTES, QUOTES
LAW FIRM TEACHING: The arrival of second-round running back Jeremy Hill out of LSU could be the final push out of the rotation for 29-year-old veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis. He averaged 3.4 yards per carry last year but where he fits with the youthful combination of Giovani Bernard and Hill remains unclear.
Green-Ellis, the ultimate team player and respected pro has taken the high road in the reformed running backs room.
"Bennie has been very helpful in my process," Hill said. "Any questions I have for him, he's always been there to help me."
CONVERSION: Rookie fullback Nikita Whitlock (Wake Forest) played the role of bullying defensive tackle in college. At 5-10, 251 pounds, however, that body wouldn't be able to bully much in the middle in the NFL.
That's why he's converted to fullback and Bengals coaches believe he could be a force very soon. He's just happy to have an opportunity no matter where on the field.
"Probably midway through the (2013) season, our liaison with the NFL came to me he and said, 'A lot of scouts are looking at you to play fullback,' " Whitlock said. "From there on I started talking to our running backs coach, learning the basics."
Whitlock played some fullback when he was younger, but will need to prove a quick learner. Orson Charles comes off a tumultuous offseason that featured an arrest and pending case in Kentucky for allegedly waving a gun at a passenger on the road. He also struggled to pick up the blocking fullback role as a converted tight end last season.
The Bengals are promoting an increased emphasis on power running. That could mean keeping a pure fullback. That could mean Whitlock has a prime opportunity.
"I definitely enjoy the position change," Whitlock said. "It's totally different but I'm learning lot. I enjoy it more than I thought I would, honestly."
NFL Team Report - Cincinnati Bengals - STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
A closer look at the Bengals' picks:
Round 1/24 -- Darqueze Dennard, CB, 5-11, 199, Michigan State
--The Bengals needed to get younger at corner and felt lucky Dennard slipped into their laps at 24. Most had him projected five to 10 picks earlier, but he fits perfectly into a man-press scheme.
Round 2/55 -- Jeremy Hill, RB, 6-1, 233, Louisiana State
--BenJarvus Green-Ellis isn't getting younger and Hill will provide the power running up the middle and explosive breakaway ability offensive coordinator Hue Jackson desires next to Giovani Bernard.
Round 3/88 -- Will Clarke, DE, 6-6, 271, West Virginia
--The Bengals needed a replacement for Michael Johnson and you can't get a more identical prospect than Clarke. He owns the sprawling wingspan the Bengals desire off the edge.
Round 4/11 -- Russell Bodine, C, 6-3, 310, North Carolina
--Bodine is a powerful man who can handle being the big center in the AFC North. The Bengals thought enough of him to trade up for only the third time in franchise history.
Round 5/164 -- A.J. McCarron, QB, 6-3, 220, Alabama
--The Bengals got their developmental quarterback behind Andy Dalton. McCarron is a proven winner and it wouldn't be insane to see him competing to start next season should problems arise with Dalton.
Round 6/212 -- Marquis Flowers, LB, 6-2, 231, Arizona
--Flowers brings speed and plenty of it. Plays well in space but will have a hard time making the 53-man roster.
Round 7/239 -- James Wright, WR, 6-3, 203, Louisiana State
--Only caught 25 passes without a touchdown for LSU and never broke through as a starter, but Bengals like him for special teams possibilities.
Round 7/252 -- Lavelle Westbrooks, CB, 5-11, 186, Georgia Southern
--A big hitter who plays well around the receivers.
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
--LB Michael Boley joined the team midseason when a rash of injuries hit. He only collected eight tackles. His return is unlikely with a new crop of drafted linebackers along with Emmanuel Lamur and Taylor Mays returning from serious injury.
--S Chris Crocker lived on the fence between retirement and return the last two seasons, joining the Bengals following Week 3 each of the last two years. He spent most of last season covering in the slot once Leon Hall went down. He's started to look into post-career possibilities and would be more likely to retire than return.
--P Zoltan Mesko joined the team after Kevin Huber went out for the year and Shawn Powell was cut. Huber is fine so no need for Mesko. He won't be back.
--OT Dennis Roland was let go and brought back Dec. 3 when offensive line injuries crept up. The versatile move tight end has spent six years with the Bengals but making the 53-man roster will be an uphill battle.
--TE Alex Smith will be entering his 10th year and that age probably dooms him. If the Bengals add a tight end in the draft he'll likely land elsewhere since Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham have the top two spots locked down. A developmental project would be better suited for that spot.
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: None.
EXCLUSIVE RIGHTS FREE AGENTS: None.
--S Taylor Mays: UFA; terms unknown.
--G Mike Pollak: Potential UFA; 3 yrs, terms unknown.
--LB Vincent Rey: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); 2 yrs, terms unknown.
--WR Dane Sanzenbacher: RFA tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); $1.2M/1 yr, $200,000 SB.
--WR/KR Brandon Tate: Potential UFA; terms unknown.
--QB Jason Campbell: FA Browns; 1 yr, terms unknown.
--S Danieal Manning: FA Texans; terms unknown.
--DE Dontay Moch (waivers Cardinals).
--OT Marshall Newhouse: UFA Packers; terms unknown.
--CB R.J. Stanford: Not tendered as RFA by Dolphins; terms unknown.
--T Anthony Collins: UFA Buccaneers; $30M/5 yrs, $15M guaranteed.
--C Kyle Cook (released).
--CB Brandon Ghee: UFA Chargers; $1.65M/2 yrs.
--LB James Harrison (released).
--WR Andrew Hawkins: RFA Browns (tendered at $1.431M with no compensation); Bengals didn't match offer of $13.6M/4 yrs.
--QB Josh Johnson (released).
--DE Michael Johnson: UFA Buccaneers; $43.75M/5 yrs, $16M guaranteed.
--QB Greg McElroy (released/retired).
--QB Zac Robinson (released/failed physical).