Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther saw the first snaps Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall took at cornerback for the Bengals in those rookie camps far, far away and he had to admit that Darqueze Dennard didn’t look all that different as a plug-in-and-play first-rounder.
“He’s sharp. He can handle a lot of different stuff,” Guenther said during the first week of spring practices. “We’ve got him playing inside; we’ve got him playing outside. He’s trying to put it all together and once the light comes on, he’ll start to really shine.”
The light has already started to glow. What has the Bengals buzzing about Dennard this early is how he’s adjusted to the rules for the voluntary spring practices. With press coverage outlawed and defenders forced to back off receivers, Dennard has had to pocket his business card that got him drafted No. 24.
And he has still looked like he’s in the right office.
“You can’t press right now. Right now,” Dennard said, as if to re-assure himself that he’ll be able to bump-and-run into training camp. “Coming back toward the season, I’ll be able to get back into my zone. But this is also helping my game out, to play off coverages as well. There’s a lot of stuff I need to improve on. I’m not perfect.”
But Dennard does look to be reliable and competent. Guenther even goes as far to say he reminds him of a Phi Beta Kappa rookie
And Dennard won’t have to start the nine games the rookie Joseph did in 2006 or play the 800 snaps the rookie Hall did in 2007. They would become the co-MVPs of the 2009 AFC North title run and he’s got a long way to go to reach them. Joseph has gone on to make two Pro Bowls with the Texans and, well, Dennard knows about Hall because East Lansing, Mich., often seemed to get the Bengals’ regional telecasts.
“I’ve been watching him since I was in college. I’d get to see him on Sundays,” said Michigan State’s Dennard of Michigan’s Hall. “He’s a great corner. I think he’s very underrated on the outskirts of the NFL, the people who really don’t know football. I think he’s one of the top corners in the league.”
“Actually, I’m going to be ready for Day Zero, before Day One,” Hall said. “I’ll be ready for the conditioning test.”
On the first day for the second defense, Dennard lined up opposite
“So far so good,” Hall said. “Some good. Some bad. Like everyone else on the first day. But the good thing is the bad stuff is really minor.”
Jones, Hall’s locker neighbor, also weighed in: “He’s bright…He’s got a chance to be something special.”
Hall has noticed the brains. Soon after Dennard was drafted, Hall asked him “some playbook stuff,” he didn’t think he would know, and he knew it. And one day after Hall gave him a tip on getting aligned properly in his stance before the snap, Dennard had tightened it up.
“That’s a start,” Hall said. “If you’re messed up before the ball gets snapped, how are you going to perform well during the play? That just tells you he’s coachable and wants to be good…. That will tell you right there it’s just not on the field, but mentally he’s where he should be.”
Hall can’t resist a few shots at the Spartans.
“Considering he went to Michigan State, we literally have nothing in common. I’m just going to leave it at that,” joked Hall with an epic fail at a straight face. “Sparty, you know, you can’t trust them. I’m just warming up to (Domata) Peko and I’ve been here seven years.”
Dennard, of course, plays it straight.
“He’s a great person,” Dennard said. “We talk a lot, actually. He gives me tips and he keeps motivating me, telling me, ‘You’re doing a good job, good thing right here, this right there.’ He’s doing a great job coaching me up and helping me become a better player.”
Guenther is using the spring for a variety of experiments. He’s got some of the ends playing both sides and the same thing with the linebackers. Dennard is getting his share with press not allowed until July.
“He can’t do his thing right now,” Guenther said. “But it’s a good time for him to get to play a little bit of off and learn the tempo and the back pedals and the breaks and stuff like that.”
He’s not looking for Hall. But this Dennard looks pretty good so far.
“Be flexible now,” Guenther said. “That’s the biggest thing. Be flexible in the spring.”