AP Sports Writer
Eds: With AP Photos.I
CINCINNATI — Don’t bother to ask Dre Kirkpatrick about the cornerback competition during the Cincinnati Bengals training camp.
From his perspective, there is none.
“I think I already have a job,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve worked my butt off. They see it. And they see the growth in me, the maturity level in me now. I just have to say that I deserve it and it’s finally time that it’s come.”
The first-round pick from 2012 will finally get his chance to move into a starting role during camp, with Darqueze Dennard — a first-round pick last year — right behind him pushing for the spot.
“I think everybody realized this is an opportunity,” Dennard said. “Everybody has kicked it up a notch and started going harder in the offseason workouts knowing that opportunity is there and trying to go grab it.”
The two young cornerbacks going head-to-head will be one of the most-watched competitions when the Bengals hold their first workout on July 31.
Sure, the main focus in Cincinnati is always on Andy Dalton. He was booed when introduced before a celebrity softball game at Great American Ball Park during the All-Star Game festivities — the only one who got treated so poorly.
He’s taken them to the playoffs four years in a row, a franchise first. But the Bengals have lost in the first round each time, with Dalton playing some of his worst games.
Overall, Cincinnati hasn’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, one of the longest stretches of futility in NFL history.
But that’s a Bengals story line for December. For now, it’s about fixing the defense, tweaking a few things, and getting the Bengals in shape to contend for another postseason appearance.
Five things to watch during the Bengals camp:
STACKING UP AT CORNERBACK: The tandem of Leon Hall and Newman was a strength of the defense for the past three seasons. Newman’s departure for Minnesota will bring a reshuffling. There’s enough depth at the spot — Adam “Pacman” Jones returns as well — but the question is who will earn the biggest role.
WHAT’S UP WITH BURFICT?: Middle linebacker Vontaze Burfict missed most of last season with concussions and torn knee cartilage that required two operations and left him unable to participate in offseason workouts. It’s unclear if and when he’ll be fully recovered. The Bengals signed A.J. Hawk in case Burfict is still sidelined or limited when the season starts.
“Vontaze will be in rehab all the way through the summer,” coach Marvin Lewis said. “So he’s got a long ways to go. He had surgery in January. That’s a surgery that takes a bit. He’s trying to beat the odds and do it quicker, but he’s got a lot of work to do. It’s part of the injury.”
GET SOME PRESSURE: The defensive line was a huge disappointment last season, severely missing end Michael Johnson — who left for the Buccaneers — and a healthy Geno Atkins. The Bengals got little pressure from the line and finished last in the league in sacks. Johnson is back, Atkins is more than a year past his reconstructive knee surgery, and tackle Devon Still has fewer worries in mind with his 5-year-old daughter, Leah, making progress in her recovery from cancer.
BACKUP QB: AJ McCarron sat out most of his rookie season with a sore passing shoulder. He’ll get a chance to win the job of backing up Dalton. Jason Campbell left as a free agent, and Josh Johnson returned to compete with McCarron for the spot. Dalton hasn’t missed an entire game because of injury during his four-year career.
TIGHT ENDS: Jermaine Gresham was one of Dalton’s top targets last season, but became a free agent and signed with Arizona. Tyler Eifert is in line to take over the top spot after recovering from elbow and shoulder injuries last season.
“I mean, time flies,” said Eifert, entering his third season. “It does feel a little weird, but at the same time I feel confident. I know our offense and I’m getting back healthy and strong, so I feel good.”
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