Now Kirkpatrick is blazing the comeback trail and sounds ready for Bengals training camp in late July after having recently undergone surgery to repair the issues in his knee.
As Kirkpatrick told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com, he's ready to contribute and believes he has a year of quality experience under his belt:
"I'm a year into the game now so I feel like I'm a year better now," he said. "I'll be ready. Going out there sometimes on Friday, me and Leon (Hall are) getting extra reps. He's teaching me, I'm learning from him. Just learning fundamentals right now."
Kirkpatrick is scheduled to be ready for all of training camp and the preseason. His performance in both will dictate how much playing time he sees once the regular season rolls around.
For the Bengals, it's important Kirkpatrick sees as much time as possible next year.
Veterans Leon Hall and Terence Newman are penciled in as the starting corners right now, with the criminally underrated Adam Jones holding down the slot cornerback position. That said, Kirkpatrick is a dynamic athlete who showed last preseason he can keep up with most NFL receivers in coverage.
Even if Kirkpatrick only secures a backup role, he figures to be a major contributor on special teams.
Depth at the cornerback position is quite possibly the most important aspect of the Bengals defense next season. After the starting three, Cincinnati only has Shaun Prater and Brandon Ghee to rely on, both who have shown nothing while battling injuries the past few years.
Kirkpatrick was a first-round talent for a reason. He's a physical corner with all of the intangibles to play at a high level when healthy. Thanks to his outstanding press coverage abilities, Kirkpatrick fits right in as a cornerback in defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's scheme.
The Bengals had two first-round picks last year, but it didn't seem like it thanks to Kirkpatrick missing the season. This year, Kirkpatrick's debut makes it seem like the Bengals had two selections in the first round, which is nothing but a good thing considering the team once again did such a great job adding talent. Kirkpatrick only furthers that notion.
For Cincinnati to make a serious push for the AFC North crown and make the playoffs for a third straight time, Kirkpatrick is going to have to stay healthy and continue to develop under the wings of Hall and Newman.
Kirkpatrick should see significant playing time next season if he can effectively bounce back from this knee issue. His presence on the field could be a major reason the Bengals make the postseason yet again.
Chris Roling is a graduate of Ohio University's E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. His work has appeared on Bleacher Report, Fansided, The Cincinnati Enquirer and more. He is the co-host of a Cincinnati Bengals podcast, @BengalsCentral
You can follow Chris on Twitter @Chris_Roling
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