CINCINNATI — On one of the first plays of training camp, cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick found himself covering All-Pro receiver A.J. Green. The first-round draft pick was getting tested right away.
Green made a move and took off down the sideline, a place that’s his domain. Kirkpatrick not only stayed with him but edged into him, breaking up the pass.
This is what Cincinnati has waited a year to see.
The Bengals took Kirkpatrick with the 17th overall pick last year, thinking he could grow into a starting role quickly. He hurt his left knee while working out last summer, forcing him to miss all of training camp and the first seven games. He played in five games before a concussion and more knee problems ended his season.
Finally healthy, he has looked like a premier player in the opening days of training camp.
“He had A.J. on the ball on the sideline,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “That guy last year would have run smack into A.J., but this time he got in great position, got A.J. cut off and turned and played the football.
“It will come back pretty quick. He understands the process, but it’s just time on task out here against real guys.”
For Kirkpatrick, it’s about time.
He won a national championship with Alabama, where his unlimited confidence earned him the nickname “Swagga.” He brought that confidence to the NFL, and it quickly took a hit.
The knee injury sidelined him for training camp and eliminated him from the team’s plans for the beginning of the season. When he started practicing again, the knee got sore, forcing him to back off.
It made for a lot of tough weeks.
“It was a lot of stress and a lot of depression,” Kirkpatrick said.
He got through it by talking to his father, Charles, who is a minister, and several teammates who have been through injuries. He was finally cleared and played in five games before a concussion and the knee sidelined him the rest of the way.
The experience has tampered the swagger.
“He’s another one of those guys who when he came in here, he thought the world revolved around him a little bit,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “I think he’s finally woke up and said if we don’t do it the way they want it done, if we don’t understand that this is how it’s going to be, they’re not going to play.
“I think he’s come a long way, too, from what I can tell. We’ll see what he does on the field. And he might be a little bit rusty to start out with. But you can never have too many good corners. Those guys are like, they’re brittle.”
The Bengals have Leon Hall and Terence Newman as the starting cornerbacks, with Adam “Pacman” Jones next in line. Jones has a trial scheduled next month on an assault charge and could face discipline from the NFL.
Kirkpatrick was visibly excited about training camp. Newman gave him a little advice.
“Don’t take this as something where you’ve got to come in and make sure you show that you’re tough,” Newman said. “Make sure you’re healed. You’ve got all the physical ability in the world. You’ve got to be able to harness it and be able to go out on the field and show it.”
So far, he’s given a good accounting of himself, showing that he’s ready to be an NFL cornerback.
“It’s quite a change from college football to NFL football playing in the secondary,” Lewis said. “And I see that transition out here.”