For a player who earned a reputation for perfect timing by winning the Thorpe Award for best defensive back in football coming out of Michigan State, Darqueze Dennard sure found his fair share of poor timing during his first two seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals.
After being selected No. 24 overall by the Bengals in the 2014 NFL draft, Dennard has fallen victim to an untimely injury every time he has appeared poised to climb the depth chart he would. The most devastating injury came the night of his first career start, Oct. 22 in Arizona on Sunday Night Football.
That night, on an innocuous play in the end zone, he suffered a separation, scratched shoulder capsule, tore his labrum and rotator cuff. His second season was over just as it appeared to be taking off.
The Twiggs County product currently tracks to return healthy by training camp. Then maybe, just maybe, this will be the year he breaks out. His luck has to change for the better, right?
Never miss a local story.
“At some point, at some point,” he said with a knowing laugh.
Following a rookie season in which he took just 41 defensive snaps while being brought along slowly by Bengals coaches, he found himself entrenched and thriving in a competition for one of the top three cornerback positions in training camp last year.
Still trying to crack the starting lineup, still trying to get on the field somehow, some way. I’m just going to try and keep that mentality I’ve been at. Try to make it through training camp fully healthy. I think both years I had great training camps. At the start of training camp (last year), I was doing well, competing for the job, but my luck I get hurt or something like that. This year, I just gotta make it through training camp and think God will guide me right this year and make everything better this year.
Then Dennard injured his groin.
It forced him to return to a reserve role behind starters Adam Jones, Dre Kirkpatrick and Leon Hall. Dennard continued to play well on special teams but only saw the field in spurts on defense. One of those spurts included his first career interception in Buffalo in Week 6.
Assuming full recovery from his shoulder injury, the opportunity arrives again for dennard to move into a more prominent role. Hall won’t return, and Dennard arrives as the likely third corner with potential to unseat Kirkpatrick at No. 2. Dennard remains focused on staying the course.
“Still trying to crack the starting lineup, still trying to get on the field somehow, some way,” the third-year corner said of his mindset in 2016. “I’m just going to try and keep that mentality I’ve been at. Try to make it through training camp fully healthy. I think both years I had great training camps. At the start of training camp (last year), I was doing well, competing for the job, but my luck I get hurt or something like that. This year, I just gotta make it through training camp and think God will guide me right this year and make everything better this year.”
Assuring health means taking an adjusted approach to his preparation. Dennard said he has incorporated more stretching and a change in diet and rest to better prepare his body.
“I think last year what happened with training camp and me getting hurt, I just think, the (2014) season was done, I was upset, I didn’t play as much, so I went in right hard into training, and I just didn’t have a break,” he said. “So, I just gotta peak at the right time. I think I’ve got a good plan this year. So, we’ll just keep praying and hopefully my shoulder will be 100 percent by training camp and I’ll be ready to compete.”