- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

CINCINNATI (AP) - Dre Kirkpatrick doesn’t even hesitate. He calls himself a Bengals starting cornerback. Starting next month, he’ll get a chance to earn the title.

The Bengals have an open job now that Terence Newman has left for Minnesota as a free agent. Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard will compete for the opening, beginning with minicamp next month.

“I think I already have a job,” Kirkpatrick said on Monday, following an offseason workout at Paul Brown Stadium. “I’ve worked my butt off. They see it. And they see the growth in me, the maturity level in me now. I just have to say that I deserve it and it’s finally time that it’s come.”

Kirkpatrick was a first-round pick from Alabama in 2012 and has been limited by injuries and the logjam at cornerback, with Newman, Leon Hall and Adam “Pacman” Jones entrenched in the top three spots. Dennard was a first-round pick from Michigan State last year.

Kirkpatrick thinks he’s ready to move into the job after playing in 14 games last season and starting twice. He had three interceptions, including one that he returned 30 yards for a touchdown.

Dennard played in 14 games last season as a rookie, getting most of his time when the score was lopsided. He didn’t have an interception.

Dennard isn’t conceding the job to Kirkpatrick. Starting at minicamp next month, the competition is on, even though Kirkpatrick might have an edge at the outset with his greater experience.

“I think everybody realized this is an opportunity,” Dennard said. “Everybody has kicked it up a notch and started going harder in the offseason workouts knowing that opportunity is there and trying to go grab it.”

The Bengals’ consistency at cornerback has been a strength of their defense, with Newman, Hall and Jones holding down the top three spots together for the last three seasons. Hall missed part of the 2011 and 2013 seasons with torn Achilles’ tendons, but started 15 games last season with one interception.

Last year at this time, Hall was getting his torn right Achilles back to full strength. Although he played last season, he wasn’t happy with the results.

“Up to my standards? No,” Hall said. “At times I had some mental lapses in there, which to me are something that’s unforgivable. That’s the good thing about this offseason. I’m able to look back more than I have in past years, focus on the mental lapses that might have been there, and work on my body.

“It’s a big offseason, not only for me but for the team. Year after year it’s a big offseason but for whatever reason, this year seems a little bit bigger.”

The main competition is between the two first-round picks to fill Newman’s job. Kirkpatrick is working on his strength, expecting to play a full season. Dennard has changed his diet, eating healthier foods to help him all-around in the competition with Kirkpatrick.

“I think I just need to show them I can be the corner they drafted,” Dennard said. “This offseason will definitely help, especially this spring going against the great group of receivers here. If I can play against them, I can play against anybody.”

Notes: The Bengals signed three more draft picks on Monday, leaving six of their nine under contract. Linebacker P.J. Dawson of TCU (third-round pick), cornerback Josh Shaw of Southern California (fourth round) and defensive tackle Marcus Hardison of Arizona State (fourth round) signed deals. The top three picks are still unsigned.

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Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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