CINCINNATI -- All Dre Kirkpatrick had to do at the end of last season was look down his row to the back corner of the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room to know they needed help at his position, and soon.
A few lockers and a doorway away are Leon Hall and Adam Jones, two of Cincinnati's aging cornerbacks who have begun the back-9 of their playing days. Just across the room is another cornerback, Terence Newman, who might be moving to the 18th tee. Hall is coming off his second major injury in three years, and is about seven months shy of his 30th birthday. Jones, who just had his best season in eight years, will turn 31 in September. Newman tiptoes past 36 that same month.
So when the Bengals started assembling their draft board this offseason, Kirkpatrick, 24, made sure to let coaches know that it was time they start investing into the future at the position.
"I actually was telling them that we needed a corner," Kirkpatrick said. "Those guys are up in age and they're on their last legs. Not to knock those guys. They're going to still continue to work and still continue to compete."But I'm 24 and I'm the youngest one out of the group. We need some young legs to come in here."
Exactly one week ago, the Bengals drafted Darqueze Dennard, a former Michigan State cornerback with their first-round pick. The position had been viewed externally as one of real need because of age and the emphasis the Bengals put on press-man coverage. So Kirkpatrick, a first-round selection himself, got his wish. And he doesn't regret it.
"Every day is a challenge, constantly," he said. "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."
Kirkpatrick is still trying to earn a starting role.
Yes, he made three starts at the end of last regular season and a fourth in the lone playoff game, but those came after Newman went down with a knee injury and didn't recover as quickly as the team hoped. Even late last season, the former first-round pick's second, Kirkpatrick had trouble in deep coverage. He was burned on occasion, including once on a stop-and-go route that froze him long enough that the receiver easily ran by to convert a long touchdown reception.
For all his lowlights, though, Kirkpatrick did have his share of good moments, like when he had timely interceptions. He picked off three passes last season, including two in the regular-season finale win against the Ravens. The last one was returned 19 yards for a touchdown in the final four minutes, sealing the 34-17 win.
Kirkpatrick has good reason to believe he will have far more highlights than lowlights this season.
"First off, I'm healthy," he said. "Therefore, I can start [training] when everyone else starts. Last year and my rookie year I didn't get the chance to do all these things because I had injuries holding me back. Now I get to go out and compete with the other guys on the same level at the same time. I'm more ready than ever. I'm more focused than ever."
Focus is something Kirkpatrick hopes Dennard will have this offseason as Kirkpatrick tries to help the rookie get acclimated to his new city, new defense and new teammates.
"He better look at it as a challenge," Kirkpatrick said. "When I first got here, that's what I did. I didn't get intimidated by it. It's made me want to work even harder. Hopefully that's how he's going to look at the situation."
If he does, Kirkpatrick believes he and Dennard could end up forming quite the backfield tandem once the other veterans depart.
"I'm still learning about him," Kirkpatrick said. "I may say some certain things to him to get that conversation out of him. He's still kind of quiet. But I get it. I went through that stage where you really want to be to yourself and really figure everybody out. But like I said, I'm going to welcome him with warm arms and hopefully we can have a duo."