Monday, October 21, 2013
As Leon Hall goes down, Bengals step up
By Coley Harvey
CINCINNATI -- They were trying to avoid saying it to reporters inside their open locker room Monday afternoon, but the Cincinnati Bengals all knew what the immediate future had in store for their recently hobbled teammate.
To them, it was a heart-breaking turn of events.
The Bengals feel confident in their depth in the secondary despite the season-ending injury to star cornerback Leon Hall.
"I know me and T-New [Terence Newman] were looking at each other and we were like literally, tears were coming down our eyes," Bengals cornerback Adam Jones said, reflecting on the moment he saw an injured Leon Hall return to the Bengals' sideline in the first quarter of Sunday's game at Detroit.
That's part of the reason there was little surprise Monday evening when sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen what everyone within the Bengals' inner chain had immediately known, but hoped to be proved wrong: that Hall, the team's veteran cornerback, was done for the year, being placed on injured reserve with an Achilles tear. A spot on the 53-man roster will now open up, bringing with it speculation and the gossipy rumor mill that is the NFL.
Sometime early Tuesday, we should know the Bengals' plans for replacing the injured star.
Coach Marvin Lewis was adamant during his news conference Monday afternoon that he didn't think the Bengals needed to go out and get a new cornerback. He felt content with the secondary players he already had.
"We don't have to look for anybody," Lewis said. "We have a couple of guys that have to step up and play now. They've been sitting here on scholarship for a bit, now it's time for them to go.
"We're not going to get anybody off the street that's going to outplay anyone here in the building."
Jones echoed those sentiments.
"This is a tough defense to pick up with all the calls you got to make and telling the [defensive] end this, and knowing you got this. It's a pretty complicated defense to pick up just right off the street," Jones said. "We've got all the tools that we need here instead of going and picking up somebody off the streets. These guys, they've been here for two years, they know the defense, they're hungry to play. It's our time for them to step up."
One off-the-street player who does know something about defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's defense is Shaun Prater. He spent part of last season with the team before going on IR and eventually getting waived earlier this summer. The Philadelphia Eagles ended up picking him up off waivers, but they, too, released him.
That release came Monday.
In addition to Prater, 36-year-old Antoine Winfield is available and has reportedly been fielding interest in recent days from likely playoff-contending teams. The Ohio native signed with Seattle in the offseason, but was released during training camp. It appeared he was going to simply retire, but it seems that he may be entertaining thoughts of making a Chris Crocker-type of comeback.
Crocker, the 33-year-old veteran cornerback who was preparing for retirement this offseason, was brought back by the Bengals earlier this season as they tried to shore up depth at the position after Hall suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out two weeks. Crocker has appeared in every game since he arrived, and even had extended minutes Sunday in the wake of Hall's early departure with the Achilles injury.
"He's a piece of the puzzle," defensive backs coach Mark Carrier said about Crocker.
Perhaps the piece the Bengals are most optimistic about is second-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick. The former University of Alabama standout has played in a limited capacity this season as he's tried to overcome his own injuries, as well as his lacking NFL experience. Since his two pass interference penalties in the Bengals' preseason game at Dallas two months ago, Kirkpatrick has grown, Jones said. Even this past weekend, when Kirkpatrick entered the game to face arguably the league's best receiver, he held his own.
"Dre, he's there, really," Jones said. "He played good this week when he had to come in in the fire. The one catch Calvin [Johnson] caught, he had perfect coverage on him. He came in and played nickel real good for his first time coming in. As long as he's playing with confidence, he'll be all right."
Carrier has seen Kirkpatrick's practice efforts improve.
"It's amazing, and he'll be the first one to tell you that when he's healthy, he can go out there and play," Carrier said. "Everyone's time comes and he knew his time was coming soon."
Hall was one of the first players who sat down and talked to Kirkpatrick after the preseason performance that Kirkpatrick still says leaves a "sour, bitter feeling" in his mouth. Carrier said Hall told the young corner about his tough outings during the years when he first came into the league.
"He said you can learn from it and get better from it and I think Dre did," Carrier said.
In addition to Kirkpatrick -- who, like Crocker, could play slot receivers like he did some Sunday -- the Bengals also have depth with defensive backs Taylor Mays, Brandon Ghee and Chris Lewis-Harris. They are confident that if needed, any one of them could come in and provide even more talent and bodies at that position.
"It's hard to see Leon go down, but you know, the rest of the guys, we've got to step up and play," Jones said. "So we'll be all right, man."