Darqueze Dennard is finally showing what the Cincinnati Bengals saw when they made him their first-round draft pick in 2014.
After playing behind four first-round picks his rookie season and seeing his 2015 campaign marred by injury, Dennard slowly turned a corner last year before he was ready to be unleashed this fall.
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The 26-year-old cornerback already has almost doubled his snap count from last year, and he’s now the team’s second-leading tackler with 58 tackles combined through 10 games and four starts. Dennard started last week at Denver with Adam Jones out because of a concussion and played every snap.
“He’s been a very consistent player for us throughout the year, and we’ve asked him to do a lot of things,” defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle said. “He’s had a lot of different jobs in the back and he’s done well. He’s got a lot of confidence. He’s a talented guy, and he’s finally getting the opportunity he was brought here for and he’s making the most of it.”
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“He’s got the versatility to go inside and outside, and what I love about him is he’s very well prepared,” Coyle continued. “He’s a great student of the game, he has a great attitude in the meetings and it’s carrying onto the field. He’s very aware of what other teams are trying to do, and as a result he generally puts himself into a spot to execute at a high level.”
The Bengals have tried to give Dennard chances to step up in the past; however, injuries kept setting him back.
After being limited mainly to special teams as a rookie, he was competing for a starting role in 2015 but suffered a groin injury in the first preseason game and spent the early part of the season as the team’s No. 4 corner. Then, just when he moved into the starting lineup because of injuries to other players, Dennard went down with his own ailment, tearing his labrum and rotator cuff to cut his 2015 season short in Week 11.
Rehab from shoulder surgery kept him from a normal offseason heading into 2016, and then he suffered an ankle injury early in camp to once again put him behind. Dennard returned to the field in Week 2 last year and played 334 snaps, or 30.7 percent of the team’s total defensive snaps.
This season Dennard has already played 567 snaps (77.6 percent), and it’s clear the Bengals have more in mind for him as they’ve already have picked up his fifth-year option.
“I missed all of the preseason last year and didn’t really have OTAs and minicamp because I was rehabbing and coming off of injury, so it was just some reps I needed,” Dennard said. “Football is a repetition sport, so the more you do it the better you get. I just missed a lot of football the last three years, but I got my body together and I had OTAs, minicamp and the offseason to fully train my body to get it how I wanted and it’s showing.”
Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis said Dennard has matured over time, and his success this year has a lot to do with changes he made to his diet and the way he prepares.
Dennard believes he has found the “right ingredients” to taking care of his body. He spent the offseason working with a personal trainer who does a technique called “Animal Flow,” which Dennard described as unusual movements that are good for the joints. He’s also doing more stretching and yoga and is now seeing a chiropractor for acupuncture.
“It’s just being healthy and able to play,” Dennard said. “I’m comfortable, and I feel like I’m playing with a lot of confidence. I’m seeing things before they happen, doing a lot of film study and I’m recognizing foot races and different routes really fast and that’s allowing me to play faster.”
The 5-foot-11, 198-pound corner has mainly played in the slot with the Bengals, but Coyle said he’s done well transitioning from the inside to the outside and vice versa, which make him an ideal player to have in his secondary. Dennard played more on the outside at Michigan State in a strictly man coverage defense.
“Queze’s just a good solid football player,” Coyle said. “He’s physical, he plays with good technique and good awareness. … He’s stepped up and we’re fortunate he’s playing the way he is.”