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Mother of all debuts?

Posted Oct 31, 2012


Dre Kirkpatrick

The Bengals are hoping to get a boost from some fresh legs, a new face, and a familiar body Sunday when their defense takes on the rampaging Broncos on Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium in a 1 p.m. game that is looking more and more like it's going to be sold out.

When it comes to the debut of first-round picks, the Bengals waited longer for Carson Palmer and Andre Smith to take their bows than cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick if the indications are correct and he comes out in a reserve role against a video game named Peyton Manning in the eighth game of the season.

"You’re lying" is what he would have said if someone told a 12-year-old Dre Kirkpatrick he'd play his first NFL game against Manning. "But it’s a great opportunity. It’s kind of weird because you’re going against one of the best, one of the greatest. So you’ve just got to be aware at all times who’s out there on the field. I feel like I’m going to be ready."

Meanwhile, defensive tackle Pat Sims emerged from the missing persons bureau, and practiced for the first time this season Wednesday as the Bengals mull pulling him off the physically unable to perform list (PUP) in time to take on Denver's suddenly prolific running game.

(If you ever wondered how good Manning would be with just a decent running game, Willis McGahee and Ronnie Hillman gave a pretty good idea Sunday night against the Saints.)

The Bengals don't have to activate Sims this week and they have three weeks from Wednesday to do it. But if they can get one of their best run players on the field in the 6-2, 327-pound Sims, why wait? Sims pulled a hamstring back on July 26 in the conditioning test for training, which in turn pulled the ire of head coach Marvin Lewis.

The big guy had already missed the last seven games of 2011 with a pair of ankle injuries. So when this latest obstacle struck, Lewis wanted to make absolutely sure Sims was in shape before taking the field again and he'll make the call after Friday's practice.

If you just look at the sheer numbers, whenever Sims plays, he plays.

"That’s a good statement," Lewis said with a laugh at his Wednesday news conference, "That’s exactly what I tell Pat: ‘When Pat plays, Pat can help you.’ He’s a factor when he’s playing. When he’s being Pat, he’s a factor."

In the 10 games before Sims's season ended last year, the Bengals gave up 3.4 yards per rush. In the 13 games since they are giving up 4.6 and have suffered such ignominies as 51-yard and 70-yard touchdown runs by Ray Rice, 188 rushing yards allowed in the playoffs, and 122 yards rushing by someone named Jonathan Dwyer making his first NFL start last week.

"What Pat can give us is that, No. 1, he really complements Domata (Peko) and Geno (Atkins) inside," Lewis said of his starting tackles. "He helps bring our two young guys along – (Devon) Still and Brandon Thompson. They’re going to be excellent players in the NFL. He helps bring those guys along, because they’re seeing from somebody else how you do it

"He’s kind of a combination of the other two guys. He’s got the strength, he’s got the balance of a big man and he’s got athleticism for a big man. For a 327-pound man, he’s got a lot of athleticism. We’ve been slow with Pat, but I think we’re to the point now where, if he’s ready to go, we’ll get him up to the roster.”  

But no matter how much space Sims could be taking up on first and second down Sunday, all eyes are going to be on the smaller guy, the 6-2, 186-pound Kirkpatrick.

"He's really been itching to get out there for the last three weeks," said Ali Smith, Kirkpatrick's high school defensive coordinator at Gadsden City in Gadsden, Ala. "I don’t know if you can ever get ready for a guy like Peyton Manning. You study as much as you can and watch as much video as you can and then you have to experience it. If they think he's ready, he's ready."

As he often does, Kirkpatrick chatted with Smith on Tuesday night. He was anticipating a big day Wednesday at practice.

"Today is going to be a big test for me in practice because I’m pretty sure they’re going to try to throw me around with the ones and get a feel of the calls and hand signals and things like that," Kirkpatrick said before the workout. "I’ve just got to be mentally strong this week."

That's why he called on Smith. Kirkpatrick's father, the Rev. Charles Kirkpatrick, may be his spiritual rock and his mother Kim may be his biggest fan. But the 38-year-old Smith is a little bit of everything. Uncle. Big brother. Buddy. Coach.

"We just talked about some things in general. Nothing major," Smith said. "Don't press. Relax. This is a game you've been playing all your life. At this point it's just about getting focused on the things you need to get accomplished and control only the things you can control."

Kirkpatrick admits he doesn't know if he's playing Sunday, but he's getting extremely excited after all the waiting since Draft Day and talking to Smith settled and got him refocused. He is able to control how much work he's been putting in with secondary coach Mark Carrier and it has been prodigious.

On Wednesday, Kirkpatrick was in Carrier's office at 6:30 a.m. watching tape and back when he was getting treatment on his leg he was coming in at some days at 6:15 a.m. And the meetings don't start until 7:45 a.m. If he's not watching extra film in the morning, Carrier says Kirkpatrick is doing it in the afternoon. Kirkpatrick treated the Wednesday morning session as if he were prepping for the afternoon quiz.

"Just some things I had on my mind that I wrote down and wanted to go over the practice film that I didn't get to watch from Monday," Kirkpatrick said. "It's just going in and recapping everything.

"Any little thing that I have a problem with on the field, (Carrier) always calls me and is like 'Hey, come meet me for five, 10, 30 minutes. Whatever it is, let's just get it corrected.' "

The big question is about technique. Could Kirkpatrick, a true bump-and-run and press corner, play off coverage in the gaps of a zone? Smith, for one, thinks he'll make a smooth transition.

"Everybody teaches technique just a little bit differently, but in the end it's still football," Smith said. "I think he's had great training in discipline and scheme from (Alabama) Coach (Nick) Saban and the fact he's been around a lot of veterans has really helped him. I think all it's been is just a few minor changes in technique."

Throw in Carrier's double-digit seasons at NFL safety, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's 19 seasons coaching NFL DBs, and assistant safeties coach Hue Jackson's 11 seasons coaching NFL offense, and Kirkpatrick has some grounding.

But if it is indeed Sunday, that means Peyton Manning.

Kirkpatrick smiled. Funny how it works. Kirkpatrick turned 23 last Friday during the bye week, which he spent with son D'Andre, which means the NFL has been Peyton's Place since he can remember. Manning has always been one of Kirkpatrick's favorite QBs.

"He controlled the game. He had self-control. He never gets outside his game," Kirkpatrick said. "Even if it is going bad, he always looks like he's on top of things.

"He knows all the tricks. He's seen everything. He knows all the disguises. Like I said, you just have to go out there and play with high energy because that's the one thing you can't coach and you can't coach against. That's what I'm going to go out there and try to give the team."

The one thing Kirkpatrick knows he can't do against Manning is take the bait. Especially now with his dizzying run fakes, thanks to McGahee and Hillman.

"Follow your keys. Don't be a peeper looking back at him because he will get you. He's good at hiding the ball," Kirkpatrick said. "Just looking at the things he sees, the checks that he makes, what makes him call certain things. Those are some of the keys I'm trying to pinpoint. It's really hard because he has a lot of things. He's a master at what he does."

The true master is the Kirkpatrick family's travel agent. They gave up trying to figure out which game Dre was going to make his debut, so his mother has come to all of them while his father has remained preaching at his church on Sundays.

"My mom actually told me yesterday, 'If you ain't playing, I ain't coming.' She's been coming to every game," he said. "She's a little tired with the road. But I told her 'Hopefully. Let's just see. If my number is called, I'm going to be out there and I wouldn't want you to miss it for nothing.' I'm going to make sure she's there.

"That's probably the one who matters the most to me."

But he's pleased to hear that his father has called on his assistants to preach Sunday's service, so he'll be in the PBS pews. Ali Smith isn’t as lucky.

"We're in the playoffs and we play Friday night," Smith said. "So we meet Sunday after church to game plan and get everything in place for Monday. I couldn't get up there and be back in time Monday morning to have everything ready. But I'll be in front of a TV."

And finally, Kirkpatrick thinks he'll be on it.

 

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