Dre Kirkpatrick just might be Bengals public relations chief Jack Brennan's new favorite player after he deftly broke up a question like it was a LSU pass before Wednesday's practice.
“That’s Coach's decision. I’m just playing my role," said Kirkpatrick, asked for the umpteenth time about his status. "When my number is called, it will be called. I’m not going to bug coach with that. It’s not my job to ask.”
A smiling Brennan cut in, "Good answer," and the news is all good. Not only has the cornerback the Bengals took with the first-round pick in the Carson Palmer trade avoided controversy at every turn by keeping it all about football, but for the first time in his NFL career Kirkpatrick wasn't on the injury report after Wednesday's practice with his injured knee that wiped out his training camp.
And Kirkpatrick didn't even use the term "Swag" when asked what he brings to the table. That's his nickname, short for the swagger and confidence he has in his game.
“A lot of energy and awareness. Pretty much focus on the game. Just be me,” is what Kirkpatrick called it Wednesday. “I’m just hungry. I want to strive for greatness and I want to help this team get to a Super Bowl one day. I just have to work hard and be aggressive and do my job.”
And for the first time in his career it looked like there is a very real shot Kirkpatrick will dress for a game Sunday (8:20 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 5).
Why not make it against the arch-rival Steelers at sold-out Paul Brown Stadium on the most popular primetime TV show in America against a Pro Bowl quarterback in Ben Roethlisberger?
But head coach Marvin Lewis may be tempted to get Kirkpatrick another week of practice reps because next Sunday is the bye. So why not roll him out for icon Peyton Manning when the Broncos come to town Nov. 4? By the time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning gets here with his Giants on Nov. 11, Kirkpatrick ought to have his first NFL snaps in the midst of this quarterback parade of Hall of Fame busts. He knows what happens when those guys see a rookie NFL corner.
“It’s not going to be easy. Every day is a challenge. That’s why I look up to the leaders to help me in the film room and show me what I’m not doing right,” Kirkpatrick said. "If I’m out there I know they’re going to come. Just trust in my technique and what Coach (Mike) Zimmer is telling me and everything will pretty much play out.”
Lewis sounds like he's ready to play Kirkpatrick right now and he has in practice at all spots. First team. Second team. Scout team.
"More impressed than any time he’s been here; even more impressive than when he was here in rookie minicamp," Lewis said. "He’s competing well, he’s practicing very hard, he’s getting his conditioning to where it needs to be to sustain playing in an NFL game, play after play after play.
“Having missed as much time as he’s missed, you can’t simulate it any other way than by going out there and doing it. As I said after practice last Friday, he’s taking a lot of reps. He’s taking all the reps vs. our offense, and he’s getting the split reps with the defense in there. Zim and (defensive backs coach Mark Carrier) are doing a good job of getting him involved in the plan all the time."
Kirkpatrick told Lewis that the knee, which developed a bone spur, bothered him all last season and that this is the best he's felt in two years. He also said he feels better about the playbook and his occasional off-coverage assignments that differ from his bump-and-run style for the Crimson Tide.
"Just a couple of things coach has to tune up; it's not going to be hard to pick up on it,” Kirkpatrick said. "The playbook, I’m always in it. I’m ready man. The game plan, just preparing like I will be out there this week. That’s how I have approached it the last two weeks.”
He's got plenty of mentors. It may be the first time in NFL history that a first-round corner has sat behind five other first-round corners and been coached by a first-round safety in Carrier.
“All of them are big brothers to me. I get the rookie hazing now and then but they pretty much treat me like one of the guys,” he said, recalling the worst hazing moment. "They made me beat on some buckets. Little weird but I had to do it. (Carry) a couple of helmets and shoulder pads.”
One of those first-rounders,
"I don't know when he is going to get out there but when he does get out there he should do a good job. He's been working really hard so he should be OK," Hall said. "I haven’t seen much of him in college, but from what I've seen he plays in our system fine. We like to press a lot but we have calls and defenses where you have to come off and play different techniques, which he's done pretty well. I don't know what he was in college but I know what Zim wants him to be here and I think he could do that. "
Sunday night would seem to be the right time for the debut because it's the first Bengals game Kirkpatrick's father has been able to get to this season. Like his son, Charles Kirkpatrick works on Sundays. For the past 15 years he has been the pastor at the non-denominational United Christian New Beginnings Ministry in their hometown of Gadsden, Ala., and he's flying to Cincinnati right after Sunday's service.
Dre Kirkpatrick understands the absences and, besides, his mother can get to the games.
"He's got a calling and I've got a calling," he said.
But he says his father has been a big help passing along inspiration during his rehab.
"It's the first time he’s missed a game but it's cool. He’s in his calling, that’s his sport."
Now it sounds like Kirkpatrick has done his part. He's just waiting for a calling from Lewis.
“If I can ever get him up and dressed, I certainly will right away. And when we get him suited up, we’ll get him playing," Lewis said. "But I’m really pleased with him."