Emboldened by the club's decision last week to exercise the fifth year of his rookie contract in 2018, cornerback Darqueze Dennard is resolved to make 2017 the year the Bengals finally see the guy they drafted in 2014.
"No. Not even close," said Dennard Monday when asked if the Bengals have seen that guy yet. "I've been frustrated for the last couple of years because I couldn't get on the field and do what I know I'm capable of doing."
Dennard, three years removed from the May night they took him with the 24th pick in the draft, says it's the best he's felt in his pro career at the start of the May camps.
He walked into a situation where the Bengals were already loaded with three other entrenched first-round cornerbacks and he played just 61 snaps as a rookie. Then the injuries began.
A pulled groin in the next spring basically wiped out his OTAs. When he started to roll and play the best ball of his career, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in his first NFL start. By the time he got back in 2016, training camp was virtually gone and Josh Shaw had the upper hand at the slot corner. Sometimes he'd play. Sometimes he wouldn't. Now he heads into his fourth season with just 582 snaps.
"I have OTAs. I have minicamp. I have training camp," Dennard said. "I haven't really had any of that except when I was a rookie. No doubt. It's the best I've felt ever before the start of a season."
Dennard admitted he was a bit surprised by the option. It is still a full house even with Adam Jones turning 34 in September. Dre Kirkpatrick just signed a five-year deal, William Jackson is in just his second year and is highly regarded by the coaches, and Shaw is only in his third year. But they like Dennard, too.
"I wasn't really worried about it. I'm focused on having the best year I can possibly have physically and mentally," Dennard said. "It is a confidence boost, it definitely did. I appreciate the coaching staff and the Brown family."