In need of a starting cornerback after Leon Hall suffered a season-ending Achilles injury Sunday in Detroit, the Cincinnati Bengals do not anticipate finding his replacement beyond the walls of Paul Brown Stadium.
“We’re not going to get anybody off the street that’s going to outplay anyone here in the building,” Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said.
“We’ve got guys,” defensive backs coach Mark Carrier added. “We’ve had different guys over the course of the year play in that nickel spot. It’s all about where we want to go with the game plan. We don’t know what we’re going to do yet. We’re kind of working that out now.”
Safety Chris Crocker, whom the Bengals signed off the street Sept. 25, saw most of the action in the slot Sunday and was on the field for 67 of the 78 defensive snaps (86 percent). But Dre Kirkpatrick, the team’s No. 1 draft pick last year, could be the more likely long-term replacement.
Kirkpatrick played 10 snaps Sunday, and while he allowed a 27-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Johnson on third-and-10, he made a good impression overall.
“He played good this week when he had to come into the fire,” cornerback Adam Jones said of Kirkpatrick. “The one catch Calvin caught, he had perfect coverage on him. He came in and played the nickel real good for his first time coming in. As long as he’s playing with confidence, he’ll be all right.”
Kirkpatrick admitted his confidence was shaken a bit by a disastrous performance in the preseason game at Dallas. In that game, he drew a pair of pass interference penalties, missed a couple of tackles and allowed a number of catches, including a Dez Bryant touchdown.
“It was one of those games and one of those days that lots of great players have,” Kirkpatrick said. “I learned my lesson. I look at my notes and continue to still watch that game. (Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer) always brings it up just to remind me. I know what a butt-whipping feels like, and I don’t want that feeling anymore.”
The player who was most instrumental in getting Kirkpatrick past that game was Hall.
“(Kirkpatrick) is leaps and bounds better, and it’s ironic because after that situation in Dallas, one of the first persons to go up to him and share some things with him was Leon Hall,” Carrier said. “He kind of let him know about his tough day he had back when he first came into the league. He said you can learn from it and get better from it, and I think Dre did.”
Starting corner Terence Newman has played a little in the slot this season, as has safety Taylor Mays. Brandon Ghee is another option, although he has been riddled with injuries since the Bengals drafted him in the third round out of Wake Forest in 2010.
Chris Lewis-Harris, a first-year undrafted player out of Tennessee-Chattanooga, is the other cornerback on the roster.
“I think we’ll be alright,” Jones said. “Of course we’ll miss Leon. He made a whole bunch of plays, so there’s no way you replace that guy.
“But we’ve got enough guys in the group right now that can handle it,” he added. “It’s time for some of the younger guys to step up. The Dre Kirkpatricks, Chris (Lewis-Harris) and Ghee. They have the tools to do it.”