Yesterday I addressed the incessant hand-wringing in Who Dey-ville regarding the second starting WR position. Today, I’ll look at another area that seems to get a lot of publicity from fans and “experts” alike: The cornerbacks.
It seems this area of the team is concerning to the overpaid and blowhard “pundits,” and with all due respect, I don’t get why the fans are likewise troubled. Maybe by and large we aren’t, but that’s not what I’m reading around the Bengalsphere.
Look, I get that Leon Hall is our best corner, and a huge question mark right now as he attempts to come back from a devastating Achilles injury. But if there was an area of the roster that got seriously upgraded over 2011, it’s this one.
Last year, the team had Hall, and free agent signee Nate Clements as the regular starters. Behind them there was Adam Jones, out of commission for half the season with neck and hamstring problems, and they traded for Kelly Jennings of Seattle. Behind them there were some meager contributions from Rico Murray and Brandon Ghee.
Hall was who we’ve come to expect—a technically-sound, almost robotic cover corner. Clements brought a stable, tough-as-nails veteran with enough speed and smarts to start in the NFL. After that, it wasn’t quite so good, and when Hall went down, so did the overall defense as Jones and Jennings struggled.
As we head to camp this year, Hall is expected to be ready-to-go, which is fantastic news. Assuming he’s back to his old form, he will start. Clements also returns and won’t relinquish his starting job without a fight.
Jennings is gone (to no one’s surprise), Ghee is back and apparently improved, and Jones is also back, though he may now be relegated to punt return duties or out of a job entirely thanks to the “new” guys the team has brought in. Added to the mix at corner are Jason Allen, who got four interceptions as a nickel back in Houston last year, Terence Newman, a longtime starter in Dallas who also nabbed four picks in 2011, and a fifth round steal in Iowa’s Shaun Prater.
I haven’t even mentioned the team’s top draft pick, first-rounder Dre Kirkpatrick. Kirkpatrick was the last of the “can’t miss” corners available in the draft, and the Bengals pounced on him at 17.
On paper, at least, this group is far and away superior to last year’s squad.
Surely, they won’t all make the team. Clements may be an odd man out due to his age and contract—especially with Newman, Allen, and Kirkpatrick realistically vying for his spot. Ghee might be out if he can’t prove he belongs this year after two seasons of patience. Prater might be practice squad material and Hall may start the year on PUP.
But even with all those possible question marks yet to be answered, the one thing I’m highly confident of is that this team is better than last year’s. With the Bengals improving pass rush, and this crop of cover corners, the defense should be able to maintain and improve upon last year’s impressive showing.
The current group has 107 interceptions and 10 touchdowns. Plus they’ve added a first round pick and a fifth rounder to that mix. If that doesn’t help a paranoid fan sleep at night, I don’t know what will.
This group is experienced, talented and deep.