During a one-on-one drill Tuesday at Cincinnati Bengals OTAs, rookie cornerback Darius Phillips was struggling with his back pedal and leverage and gave up an easy completion.
Shortly after dejectedly making his way to the sideline to await his next turn, starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick was waiting for him.
“He told me to keep my head up and make sure to stay outside because on that route we would have inside help,” Phillips said. “On my next play, I stayed outside on a double move and got a pass deflection.”
That scenario has played out often during OTAs as Kirkpatrick has taken the initiative to expand his role, especially Tuesday when he was sitting out practice with an undisclosed injury.
“I’m in a different position now,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’m one of the oldest guys in the DB room. I’m just trying to fulfill the leadership role that I’ve worked to earn. If I see guys lacking in certain areas, it’s my job to make sure they’re up to speed.”
At 28, Kirkpatrick is the oldest guy in the secondary, beating safety George Iloka by 156 days.
“I think both of us are very willing to coach the young guys up,” Iloka said. “But you also don’t want to be overbearing. I’m an open book. I always tell them I’ll give them any tips I can, ways to help you out and help you learn.
“I can’t speak for the young guys, but I would hope they would said they feel like it’s a very open and accepting room,” Iloka added. “We’re all sharing the wealth in terms of knowledge,” he added.”
The Bengals drafted Davontae Harris with their first of three fifth-round picks (151st overall), and they took Phillips a short time later with their third pick of the fifth round (170th).
“Dre reached out to me before I even got here,” Harris said. “He contacted me right after I got drafted. So when I got here I felt like I already knew him. He was somebody I knew I could confide in from a learning standpoint, from a teammate standpoint.”
Kirkpatrick said the older he gets, the more he thinks about pursuing coaching when his playing days end. But he’s nowhere near ready to trade his cleats for a whistle.
“I plan on playing a lot longer, and who knows what I’ll be thinking when I’m done,” he said. “Maybe after you play the game for a long time, you might lose interest in staying around it after you’re done. But as of right now, yeah, coaching is something I would love to do.”
Both Phillips and Harris said he’s built for it.
“He’s great at it,” Phillips said. “Coming here and trying to learn a new system, I need the extra help from guys like that. And when I do mess up, it helps to have them there to tell me to keep my confidence up. I really appreciate that.”
The big thing for Harris is that while he thinks Kirkpatrick has a future as a coach, he’s not one yet.
“When you get instruction from a player, you know they’re telling you from experience,” he said. “Coaches can tell you to do something because that’s what it says in the playbook. But whenever a player talks to you about technique or something else about a play, it’s coming from personal experience.
“Dre’s just one of those guys who’s a really good dude and generally a leader and genuinely wants the team to be a winning team,” Harris added. “He’s very personable and very trustworthy, so whatever he says is gold because he’s a vet. That’s the way I view it.”
Kirkpatrick said he’s just paying forward the way he was treated as a young first-round draft pick in 2012.
“At the end of the day, I just want to be a good team leader, be a great veteran and help these guys,” he said. “It’s like I just told Davontae a little bit ago, one day he’ll be in my shoes. I’m not always going to hold this position.