Dennard takes it to the house

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      Darqueze Dennard is trying to swoop in on a starting job.

You had to wait nearly a year, but this is why the Bengals drafted Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard with their first pick the last time they went through this thing called the draft:

On the Monday the Bengals emerged from winter mothballs for the first session of voluntary offseason workouts, Dennard looked at the locker now occupied by former Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk at the corner of the main locker room entrance. It was even more proof that starting left cornerback Terence Newman is in Minnesota and there's an opening.

"With me, I see blood in the water. I'm a shark. By any means necessary, I've got to go get it," Dennard said of that starting spot. "That's my expectation. This offseason, that's the plan. Right after the season I started training. I want it. I'm very hungry for it, hungry for the spot. We'll see how it goes."

That is why Dennard is going to get every opportunity to start the opener.

And to be fair to Dennard, he showed them right away he could play after they made him the 24th pick in the draft. With starting right cornerback Leon Hall rehabbing from a torn Achilles, Dennard took a lot of his snaps in the spring practices, particularly those in the slot, and impressed with his competiveness and technique. The only reason he took just 61 defensive snaps as a rookie is because veterans Newman, Hall, and Adam Jones were keeping Dennard and Dre Kirkpatrick on the bench.

Not anymore, although Hall, Jones, and Kirkpatrick are also first-round picks and are going to have plenty to say about that. And here comes the competitiveness they love.

"I think I'm still a humble player, still a humble person. But at the same time, me being a first-round draft pick, any other first-rounder is pretty much expected to play. But if you look around in our locker room, you wouldn't see another cornerback locker room like this," Dennard said. "We have (four) first-round draft picks, so I have to be realistic as well. These guys all have years of playing in the NFL. Me coming in last year, I could've said 'I'm going to be the starter' and then it wouldn't have happened. We've got a lot of veteran guys and they all play at a high caliber. They're Pro Bowlers. They've been there and done that, so it's kind of hard for me to come in and say that. But for now, I think me having the confidence and having a year under my belt to actually play in a game and experience the atmosphere and the speed of the game and learn from those guys, they all contribute to me right now. I think that's why I have that mindset. Last year I still had that same mindset, but I had to be realistic about the situation. The spot is open, so it's there to be taken."

Dennard didn't say much last season and is still a respectful sort who wouldn't say 'Peanut butter,' if he had a mouthful. But he makes no bones about it. "I want to reach for the stars. I want to be a Pro Bowl player," he says, and he has guys like Newman and the other corners to thank.

First, for putting themselves on tape. Dennard said he didn't watch himself on tape this offseason, opting to take notes on the guys whom played in front of him.

 And secondly, for getting him on a much stricter off-season regimen. Dennard saw Newman, 36, Jones, 31, and Hall, 30, excel despite their advancing years. Bad news for the pizza joints in town.

"Just learning how to take care of your body and treating it like a temple," Dennard said. "Talking to (Jones)  and Terence Newman and Leon toward the end of last season, they were telling me I need to shed some weight and start eating better and take care of my body with little things like massages and acupuncture and eating the right foods. I took accountability this offseason to start myself on a diet and get massages every week and doing acupuncture and trying new things out, such as cold tubs."

There is now a moment of silence at takeout windows all across Cincy.

"Hardest thing to give up was pizza. I like LaRosa's pizza," he said. "I came here and fell in love with LaRosa's pizza and Donato's. So pizza is the biggest thing. And hamburgers."

Here's another reason the Bengals drafted Dennard and it had nothing to do with his tight man-to-man coverage for the Spartans or the fact Michigan State won its most games ever over four seasons with him at cornerback. It had more to do with Dennard's 3.6 grade point average and the fact he was still coming into the weight room at 5:30 a.m. in East Lansing last spring, when he didn't have to.

 Character.

This is why the Bengals drafted Dennard No. 1:

Dennard, who trained in Boca Raton, Fla., says the most exciting thing he did in the offseason was buy a house for his mother.  Both Lisa Curry and her parents raised Dennard and when it was time for him to play high school football, he stayed with his grandparents in the country in Jeffersonville, Ga., so he could go to Twiggs County High School.

His mother stayed in her apartment near the city in Macon, but if Dennard left home, the idea of home never left.

"Since I was born, so for the last 23 years – she has been living in an apartment," Dennard said. "So to have her own house and her own living space, she finally has a backyard and things like that, that was a big step for me. I always said growing up if I had an opportunity to do something like that, I would do it. Since I was a little kid. I always wanted to do it. Once I got drafted, I pretty much started the search then. I wanted to surprise her on her birthday this past February."

During his days off he'd go house hunting and had help with pictures from his agent and financial adviser and when the season ended the pace intensified so he could close in secret by her birthday on Feb. 8.

But when the day got here, he flew to Georgia to surprise her with her new house and she chose that day to surprise him in Florida. Wondering where the heck he was, Dennard made up a story about meeting business partners and he had to move the surprise back.

 "My aunts were in on it. I had to call them the night before and actually told them I was going to surprise her. So Saturday night I called them and told them 'this is the plan.' If I would've told them sooner they would've told her and ruined it," Dennard said. "After church Sunday they got her in the car and where the house is, it's right outside the park where my little cousins play baseball. So my aunt lied and said they had to go to a game. They all got in the car and went down there and when they pulled up at the house, that's when I came out and gave her the keys."

A four bedroom with a nice, roomy backyard near Macon.

Asked if it's the nicest house in town, Dennard smiled.

"Maybe."

He hasn't started a game and he's already taken one to the house.

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