Fifth-year Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick may not necessarily be Champ Bailey, one of the greats at the position over the course of the past couple of decades, but that certainly doesn’t mean that the former first-round draft pick can’t pick his mind and gain the insights that will help him bring his game to the next level.
Kirkpatrick worked Bailey over the course of the offseason, looking to improve upon his first full season as a starter in 2015. ESPN writer Coley Harvey detailed a four-day ‘Camp Champ’ in which the future Hall of Fame defensive back put his younger pupil through a crash course of defensive knowledge.
“I needed a mentor at that point and who could be a better guy than a 12-time Pro Bowler?” Kirkpatrick told Geoff Hobson for the Bengals’ website recently. “I liked watching Champ growing up. I thought our personalities would go perfectly. He’s more of a calm-minded guy and I’m more of an emotional player”.
Kirkpatrick has a bit of a physical edge over Bailey, as he noted, saying, “I’m a little taller than he is (6-2 to 6-0), but we have a similar body style”. But the Bengals defender sees a lot of himself, or of what he wants to be, in what Bailey did for a decade and a half. “I felt like it was a good time to reach out to him”, he said.
It doesn’t hurt that he was set on the path to track down Bailey early on in his career. Hobson replays that then-Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden told him during his rookie season in 2012, while Bailey was still playing, to watch him and how he plays in the red zone as a textbook example of how a cornerback should play his responsibilities in the final slice of the field.
Talking about his experiences working with Bailey over the summer, Kirkpatrick described it as “mostly film study” and “mental reps”, but said, “we went on the field just a little bit. He showed me a few small things”. The Bengals defender as not willing to divulge too much of what he learned from Bailey, leaving it as “things that I’ve transferred to my game now”.
According to Pro Football Focus’ data tracking, Kirkpatrick has allowed four receptions on 10 targets though two games, giving up one shoulder in victory off a back shoulder pass while also picking one off on Sunday against the Steelers on a deep ball. He nearly had another one later in the game.
While he has taken a lot from Bailey about his on-field approach, Kirkpatrick seems to have been most influenced by what Hobson describes as a “no-frills, low-profile approach”. Kirkpatrick described Bailey as “a quiet guy”, “real laid back”, and said that “if you don’t talk about ball, you’re not going to get much out of him”. That business-like approach will be of benefit to him while he plays out the final year of his rookie contract in search of a big payday in the free agency period of 2017.