Matchup against former teammates ‘personal’ for Bengals’ Kirkpatrick

Torrey Smith #11 of the Carolina Panthers runs the ball against Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)
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Torrey Smith #11 of the Carolina Panthers runs the ball against Dre Kirkpatrick #27 of the Cincinnati Bengals in the first quarter during their game at Bank of America Stadium on September 23, 2018 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Teams seem to be throwing toward Dre Kirkpatrick more and more, but the seventh-year Cincinnati Bengals cornerback says he’s up to the challenge.

Especially this week.

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Kirkpatrick has been limited in practice by a groin injury and didn’t even participate Thursday but is anxious for a chance to face an Atlanta Falcons squad Sunday that features former University of Alabama wide receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley and former Bengals receiver Mohamed Sanu.

The Bengals meet the Falcons for the first time since 2014 on Sunday in Atlanta.

“That stuff is personal this week,” Kirkpatrick said. “I already know it, they’re not going to say it. For me. I played with Mo, I played with Julio. Calvin played at Bama. I know the buzz going around there because that’s where we’re from. … It’s going to be real. I already know it.”

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Jones and Kirkpatrick were teammates for two seasons at Alabama, where they helped the Crimson Tide win a national championship in 2009. Jones was the No. 6 overall pick in the 2011 draft, and Kirkpatrick was the No. 17 overall pick for the Bengals in 2012. The two have never matched up in a game since Kirkpatrick was limited to special teams during the 2014 game in Cincinnati.

Kirkpatrick doesn’t personally know Ridley, the Falcons’ first-round draft pick this year, but considers him a “brother” like all former Alabama players.

Bragging rights are on the line, and Kirkpatrick doesn’t want to miss the opportunity to play Jones in particular. Jones leads the Falcons with 329 yards receiving, while Ridley adds 210 yards.

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“We never played against each other,” Kirkpatrick said. “I’ve been in the league seven years. I never had the opportunity to go against him for whatever reasons. I’m looking forward to it. A great challenge. Julio is still my guy win, lose or draw. This week I feel like it’s going to be a little extra something.”

Whether Kirkpatrick plays Sunday or not, the Bengals secondary will have its work cut out for it, but Kirkpatrick said there isn’t a better way to prepare than going against a receiver like A.J. Green every day in practice.

Jones and Green often draw comparisons since going through the same draft class. The Bengals took Green two picks before Jones was taken off the board.

“They’re both quiet,” Kirkpatrick said. “They just show up to work, go to work every day. They’re similar as far as when you look at them. To me A.J. is a little more finesse in certain things he does and Julio is a little more physical in certain things he does. But they both have great hands and they both go get the deep ball. … A.J. is better.”

Kirkpatrick is itching for his first interception after coming close on a few occasions already this season. He said it’s bound to come soon.

The sheer number of targets on his side of the field has created more opportunities, which tends to skew the numbers when it comes to opposing players' receiving stats. The 28 targets toward Kirkpatrick rank second among all cornerbacks in the NFL, according to ProFootballFocus.com , and he has the third best incompletion rate among the 16 most targeted corners as only 13 of those passes were completed against his coverage.

“I’m always going to up for the challenge,” Kirkpatrick said. “I admit I didn’t have my best season last year, but so far I feel like I’ve had my best start to a season. If they want to keep coming eventually they’ll pay for it.”

“At the end of the day they’re going to come and I’ll be ready,” he added. “Mentally I’m fresh. I feel like I’m playing my best game right now.”

Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said Kirkpatrick has handled the attention on his side of the field well overall but had some mistakes last week against Carolina.

“He has to keep the proper perspective and leverage, depending on the coverage, all the time,” Lewis said. “He started the game out very well, and then they were able to convert a couple third downs, where he has to do a little bit better of a job. Some are going to be tough plays, but probably the second toughest position out there on that field is cornerback.”

The Bengals’ pass defense overall could be better, as they rank 24th with 270.3 passing yards allowed per game. However, defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said he still has confidence in the group, particularly Kirkpatrick.

“He’s fine,” Austin said. “He comes to work every day. He competes. He knows like all of us we’re just trying to get better and be better next week and help us win this week. Because we all know it’s week to week and you don’t know when your number is going to be called and when you’ve got to make play and I’m sure he’s going to make a lot of plays to help us here. I’ve got all the confidence in the world in him.”

SUNDAY’S GAME

Bengals at Falcons, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 1530, 102.7, 104.7