Where The Holes Lie On Defense: Cornerback

Running back Arian Foster #23 scores on an eight-yard touchdown run in front of cornerback Adam Jones #24 of the Cincinnati Bengals on January 7, 2012. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

(edit: okay, so I wrote so much about each position that I’m posting two articles. One on the cornerbacks, one on the safeties)

This is the second in a two part series I’m doing on the current holes in the team and how glaring these holes are. Yesterday I talked about the holes on offense- guard and runningback. Today is defense. I give two big positions to address in either the 2012 draft or in free agency, then how big the priority is on a 1-5 scale. 1 is must-fix.

Cornerback: Though I’ve been vocal in defense for both Adam Jones and Nate Clements this year, it’s time to swallow my pride and admit that the cornerback position is in need of some young, elite talent. The Bengals have five cornerbacks currently on the roster. Nate Clements started all 16 games this year and has one more year on his contract. Adam Jones started 7 games when Leon Hall went down to injury and is a free agent this year. Leon Hall is signed through 2015, but will be recovering from a major knee injury that he suffered in Week 10. Kelly Jennings has been the team’s 3rd/nickel corner the whole year, playing 416 of the defense’s 1107 snaps. Brandon Ghee, the team’s 2010 3rd rounder, has been through a decent amount of injuries and has bounced around the team’s practice squad and inactive roster because of this. Ghee has only seen 13 total defensive snaps in his two years with the Bengals.

22 Clements, Nate CB 6-0 200 32 11 Ohio State
21 Ghee, Brandon CB 6-0 193 24 2 Wake Forest
29 Hall, Leon CB 5-11 195 27 5 Michigan
23 Jennings, Kelly CB 5-11 180 29 6 Miami (Fla.)
24 Jones, Adam CB 5-10 185 28 5 West Virginia

When Leon Hall went down to injury in week 10, the Bengals secondary simply wasn’t the same. Clements and Jones were the starters, but each one had his fair share of bad plays. The biggest knock against Clements is that he couldn’t keep up with speed threats like Torrey Smith and that he is the oldest player signed through 2012. Clements does have a few major strengths though, his ability to bring down runningbacks and his smart, veteran leadership. Clements can fly into the backfield and make nice stops in the run game, and his knowledge of the game is unmatched on the defensive side of the Bengals. He is constantly communicating pre-snap and apparently has greatly helped in the development of Adam Jones:

“It helps to have (No.) 22 (Nate Clements). This guy here, he’s just so damn smart. People don’t realize it, but a lot of plays, he has helped me out to pick up my game as far as studying (goes) — what’s coming and what route.” – Adam Jones, following the week 16 win over the Arizona Cardinals

In addition to all the positive remarks I’ve heard about Clements’ work ethic and how he is the first guy in the locker room every day, Clements is a positive contributor to this team. He will probably start for the Bengals for another year, but after that, who knows where his skills will be. To draft an elite cornerback in this year’s draft and have him wait and be groomed by Clements is the ideal situation to me.

On the other two major players, Hall and Jones, Hall will absolutely be here with the Bengals in a few years, Jones may not be. If the Bengals draft a cornerback early in this year’s draft, there is simply no room for Jones to receive significant playing time. Jones has shown flashes of a high level of talent, but he is still developing. Jones is extremely competitive, and I have no knocks against his character or anything because I believe that he has fixed those issues in the last two years. But, let’s be honest, Jones doesn’t want to play nickel cornerback for anybody. He is that competitive that we will want to start for somebody next year.

Unfortunately for Jones, Leon Hall and Nate Clements will be the Bengals’ starters next year if Hall recovers from his knee injury properly. If the Bengals draft a corner in the first two rounds, I can’t see him returning to the Bengals, where Jones’ chances of playing are very limited.

If the Bengals don’t draft a corner early, however, then perhaps Adam Jones does have a future on the team. He could play nickel corner in 2012 (or compete with Clements and Hall for a starting spot), then take up the starting corner spot in 2013, when Clements is a free agent.

Either scenario is possible, but I think that the Bengals organization holds both Clements and Hall in high regard and wants to see them start in 2012. Given that likelihood, I think the Bengals should draft a corner early in this year’s draft and groom him under the veteran leadership of Clements/Hall for a year, then let this young, elite talent start in place of Clements in 2013.

College CB names to watch: LSU’s Morris Claiborne (projected top 5, probably won’t fall to us), Alabama’s Dre Kirkpatrick (projected first rounder), North Alabama’s Janoris Jenkins (projected first rounder), Nebraska’s Alfonzo Dennard (projected first rounder).

Priority: 2. The situation at cornerback isn’t a dire one for 2012, but something must be done for the future. Whether the Bengals want Adam Jones or strong rookie, it’s up to the Bengals.

Topics: 2012 Draft

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