Cincinnati Bengals: Darqueze Dennard

One measure of a defense's success can be seen in how well it prevents an opposing offense from getting first downs.

Last season, the Cincinnati Bengals were quite good at doing that. They ranked third in the league in first downs allowed, giving up 282. The most a defense gave up in 2013? It was the 388 chain-moving plays permitted by the Cowboys.

This Thursday's factoid looks specifically at one area the Bengals were particularly successful at when it came to limiting first-down chances for opposing offenses.

The number of the day: 29.0.

Out of the 614 passing attempts the Bengals allowed last season, opposing offenses converted first-down passes on just 29 percent of those throws, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That was the lowest first-down-per-attempt conversion percentage in the league. At 29.8 percent, the Seahawks were the only other team that allowed fewer than 30 percent of the passes attempted on them to be converted for first downs.

On the other end of the spectrum was Washington, which allowed a league-high 39.7 percent of passes attempted against it to be turned into first-down receptions.

It wasn't only in the first downs per pass where the Bengals had a solid conversion rating. They did well in the first downs per rush category as well. They ranked fifth in the league last year in limiting first downs per rushing attempt. Of the 385 carries opposing offenses had against them, the Bengals permitted teams to convert first downs on only 18.7 percent of them. The Jets, Lions, Ravens and Cardinals were the only teams with lower first-downs-per-rush conversion ratings.

Why are the conversion percentages lower for rushing attempts than passing ones? The same reason yards-per-carry averages are typically lower than yards-per-reception averages. It's simply easier to gain yards in the air than it is to consistently pick up big chunks on the ground. That's long been a truism in the NFL, and likely forever will be.

Regardless which is easier to contain, the fact is the Bengals were pretty good at getting offenses to third down and not letting them convert last season. The aforementioned first-down conversion ratings are evidence of that, as is the 32.9 percent overall third-down conversion rating Cincinnati had in 2013. Detroit was the only team that had a better third-down conversion rating. All of the statistics discussed here are related, and are among the reasons the Bengals ended up having the league's third-best defense.

The question now becomes if the Bengals will be able to obtain similar numbers this fall when they field a defense for the first time in seven years without Mike Zimmer in charge of it. Newly promoted defensive coordinator Paul Guenther believes the transition from Zimmer will be smooth, and that his talented, mostly returning defense will be able to pick right up where it left off last year. The only true losses this offseason were defensive end Michael Johnson (signed away in free agency), linebacker James Harrison (released) and safety Chris Crocker (wasn't re-signed in free agency).

It's the Bengals' "additions" that could be the real game-changers. Along with signing veteran defensive back Danieal Manning and drafting the likes of cornerback Darqueze Dennard and defensive end Will Clarke, the Bengals also will see corner Leon Hall, defensive tackle Geno Atkins, safety Taylor Mays and outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur return from injuries that cut short their 2013 seasons. One could argue those gains will greatly outweigh the losses -- from Zimmer to Johnson -- the Bengals had this offseason.
CINCINNATI -- When Darqueze Dennard signed his rookie contract with the Cincinnati Bengals last Thursday, he ended up inking a deal that will pay him about $6.5 million guaranteed, and that assures he will be a key piece to the franchise for the next four years.

His contract, obtained through ESPN Stats & Information, also stipulates the Bengals will take a series of cap hits the next three seasons if they try to get rid of their first-round draft pick cornerback. It's because of those details that make the contract favorable both for Dennard and the organization, which has faith he will be part of the defensive back rotation for the foreseeable future.

All told, Dennard's deal will pay him the nearly $8 million he was slotted for as the No. 24 overall pick in last month's draft. Per the latest collective bargaining agreement, rookies signed to contracts since 2011 receive cap values based upon where they get drafted. The higher the pick, the more money the player receives.

Dennard was the last of the Bengals' eight draft picks to sign, meaning Cincinnati is now done with setting that portion of its roster ahead of training camp next month. In total, the Bengals will pay about $5 million to their draft picks for the 2014 season.

As part of the nearly $6.5 million guaranteed he'll be paid across the next four years, Dennard will take home a signing bonus of just over $4.1 million. The signing bonus will come from an annual proration of $1,030,709. The remainder of his guaranteed money will come from his base salary in the first three seasons.

While his Year 4 base salary isn't guaranteed, he is eligible for a roster bonus of $420,000 that season. It's also the only year on the deal that the Bengals will actually have a cap savings if he's released.
CINCINNATI -- Terence Newman knows he's what we'll simply call "advanced in age."

He doesn't need you nor I to remind him of the 11 seasons he's seen in the NFL. He doesn't need either of us to bring up the fact he's the only player on the Cincinnati Bengals' roster who was born in the 1970s. He also doesn't need to be told that "Father Time" has yet to lose in his grand battle with professional football players; a day will soon come when he'll be forced to halt his playing days and move on to other endeavors.

[+] EnlargeTerence Newman
Al Behrman/AP PhotoCornerback Terence Newman is entering his 12th season in the NFL, and he's picked up on some valuable tips over the years.
The main reason he doesn't need any of those hints about his age -- 35 -- is because Newman is comfortable he has time left before the dreaded "R-word," (retirement) becomes his reality. Besides, he understands the great advantage the Bengals, or any team for that matter, have in simply having him around.

As he enters his 12th season in the league, Newman continues embracing his role as Bengals sage.

"I've seen everything that kind of can see as far as offenses," the veteran cornerback said, holding a golf wedge as he sized up a chip shot in the Bengals' locker room after a minicamp practice earlier this week. "It's fun for me because I can kind of give my input on things that I've seen in the league, and just try to pass that on to [younger players]. All the young guys, I just try to help them any way I can. That's from Day 1. Since the time they got here they say, 'What are you? A player or a coach?'

"That's just me passing along what I got when I first got in the league."

He passes along golf advice, too. During the interview, he kept pointing out to third-year safety George Iloka a few reasons his whiffle-ball chip shots weren't landing in the laundry bins across the locker room. Ever the adviser Newman is. It seems he already has a hobby for when the dreaded "R-word" rolls around.

When Newman, who was drafted by the Cowboys with the fifth overall pick, entered the league from Kansas State in 2003 the NFL landscape was much different.

For starters, the Bengals weren't the annual division threat they now are. Back then, their old "Bungles" nickname certainly applied. Before head coach Marvin Lewis was hired that offseason the Bengals hadn't had even a .500 record since 1996. They hadn't had a winning tally further back than that -- 1990.

Schematically, the league looked different, too. Mobile quarterbacks were all the rage with the elusive Michael Vick and Donovan McNabb dominating headlines.

While running quarterbacks are still a little en vogue, teams are more apt to spread the field with multiple playmakers. Bigger tight ends, bigger receivers and shiftier running backs have become the NFL norm. As Newman keeps adapting to the subtle changes that come into the league each passing year, he's trying to make sure his young teammates understand how to properly counter them.

"We all watch film differently and see some things differently," Newman said, comparing himself to the first- and third-year players the Bengals have at corner. "I might see something. Say a receiver puts his opposite foot up. I saw that [Thursday] and started yelling, 'Run, run, run.' I knew that it was a run. That's just different little things people might not see."

After explaining that anecdote, Newman told another involving a series of routes Bengals receivers had run while rookie Darqueze Dennard covered one of them. From the sideline, Newman could tell Dennard didn't see all of the routes the way he should have.

"When you bring it up, they're like, 'Oh yeah, that's right. I did notice that,'" Newman said.

Dennard, the team's first-round pick who signed his rookie deal Thursday, has credited Newman's guidance, as well as that of Adam Jones and Leon Hall, to reasons why the game is beginning to slow down and his playbook is beginning to make more sense.

"We've got a lot of great players out here," Dennard said. "Looking especially in the secondary, there's a lot of players that have done a lot of good things in their careers. I'm just out here to learn from them and do the best I can to help the team."

Newman knows that inevitably Dennard or some other young cornerback will eventually take his spot. But he's determined they don't do that this year.

"I'm fighting for a roster spot, too, like everybody else, in my mind," Newman said. "Honestly, I think that all nine of us could be on rosters and contribute this year. That's how good the talent at cornerback is. But as it is, you only get a certain number of guys that actually play."

Cuts at the position will be made.

During one of last week's practices, Lewis praised Newman for the way he's so far attacked this round of offseason workouts. The veteran easily could slack off and coast into training camp, but he hasn't.

"That's why he's been such a great pro for so long," Lewis said. "He's got incredible, incredible athleticism and intelligence. He's a kid at heart. He's just been a marvel and a great asset to this football team both on the field and off the field and intrinsically within the room with what he does, always mentoring players, whether it's at his position or other guys about the NFL in general."
CINCINNATI -- The Bengals completed the signing of their rookie class Thursday when first-round pick cornerback Darqueze Dennard officially inked his first NFL deal.

The team's other seven draft picks all signed last month.

Per the rookie wage scale that was part of the latest collective bargaining agreement, Dennard is slotted to have a cap value just under $8 million across the four years of the contract. As the draft's 24th overall pick, he commands a slotted cap value of $1.45 million for the 2014 season. He's also expected to receive a signing bonus of about $4.1 million across the life of the deal. No official terms of his deal have been released. We'll update when they are.

With Dennard's contract now in, the Bengals officially have 90 contracts on the books as they close down mandatory minicamp and head back into one final week of voluntary organized team activities. Cincinnati held its last minicamp practice Thursday morning. It has three OTA sessions next week before breaking for the summer.

"Of course it's great to have all this done well before we come back for training camp," coach Marvin Lewis said in a statement. "He's been everything we hoped he would be to this point. He's a great talent. He played in a big-time pressure defense at Michigan State and he's not afraid to be out there [in coverage] by himself. And as we knew he would, he conducts himself every day as a mature pro who wants to get better every day."

Dennard last spoke to media Wednesday, holding court for several minutes as he discussed his role in the team's deep secondary. He also addressed the fact that nearly a month to the day he was still without a deal.

"The deal? No, I don't think about that. It will happen," he said. "I'm not really worried about it. I'm just worried about me doing whatever it takes to help the team win."

For now that role remains somewhat uncertain. The Bengals have a bevy of veteran cornerbacks ahead of Dennard on the depth chart. Veterans Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Leon Hall will be part of the primary starting rotation at the position. Third-year player Dre Kirkpatrick also is expected to get his share of playing time. That seems to leave, barring significant injuries, few windows of opportunity for Dennard to play regularly.

During minicamp, Dennard was lined up both at the left and right cornerback positions as well as in the slot. You can read a little more about what he had to say about his adjustments in this column from Wednesday evening.

Still, none of that is to say that starting him is completely out of the question.

"Starting a rookie at corner, it depends on the person," co-defensive backs coach Vance Joseph said. "Darqueze is a very mature person. He's an achiever also. From high school to college, he's been a winner. His personality, his skill set, I would feel fine starting him. But he's got to earn it. We've got Leon Hall here. We've got Terence Newman. We've got Adam Jones. We've got Dre Kirkpatrick. He's got to earn it."

A native of Dry Branch, Georgia, Dennard received his only scholarship offer -- to Michigan State -- the night of his final regular-season high school football game. He went on to become a USA Today first-team All-America selection at Michigan State, and win the Thorpe Award, the honor given to college football's best defensive back.

If Dennard's actual deal mimics what he's slotted to make, the Bengals will have paid about $5 million to their draft picks, meaning their cap space will go from its current $24 million down to $19 million.
CINCINNATI -- It was honesty at its finest, candor at its best and humility at its strongest.

When rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard proudly said Wednesday, with a smile on his face no less, that the Cincinnati Bengals "really don't need me," a few eyebrows in the huddle of reporters around him raised.

Did he really say that?

He really did.

"It is what it is," Dennard said, still grinning as he was pressed on the statement. "I'm a realist. We've got a lot of great players out there. Looking especially in the secondary, there's a lot of players that have done a lot of good things in their careers. I'm just here to learn from them and do the best I can to help the team."

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Matthew Holst/Getty ImagesDarqueze Dennard could have a hard time cracking the Bengals' veteran lineup as a rookie.
Realistically, he's right. It was the correct and proper thing to say. With so many veteran cornerbacks on the depth chart in front of him, the odds Dennard starts at either of the outside cornerback positions or on the inside as a slot player, are quite slim. Terence Newman might be 35, but he's healthy. Adam Jones is entering his ninth year, but he's still quite spry. And 29-year-old Leon Hall is bracing for a big bounce-back year after tearing his Achilles in the middle of last season.

Add third-year corner Dre Kirkpatrick to the mix, and Dennard's climb to the top of the cornerback depth chart gets even steeper.

It's important to stress that none of Dennard's comments are indications that he's already packed it in for the spring and summer and won't compete for a starting job. He plans to be a key piece to the Bengals' defensive puzzle for as long as he's playing in the league.

Part of that push for playing time will include learning the playbook and getting acclimated with everything the coaches will want him to do. In addition to covering passes downfield on the outside, he'll be relied upon to play in the slot, and looked to for help in run support. He's likely to be called upon to blitz on occasion, too.

Since his whirlwind first day of voluntary organized team activities two weeks ago, he has seen a steady progression in his knowledge of his role and responsibilities. If he were to grade his comfort level in Cincinnati's defensive playbook on a scale of 1 to 10, he said he would give himself an "8."

That is another check in the right-things-to-say box. A number that high suggests growing confidence in the system, but not so much growth that he feels he knows it all. He still sees room for more improvement. "Eight" is a good place to be when it comes to understanding the playbook.

"It's slowed down a lot," Dennard said. "I have gotten comfortable so I am out there not thinking as much, so it allows me to play faster."

Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther has seen some flashes of that improved comfort.

"He's real sharp mentally," Guenther said after Wednesday's minicamp. "We've thrown him in there sometimes with the [starters], and we've thrown him in there both inside and outside. He's done a good job. He's picked up the defense good. He just needs the little things. The tweaks are here and there, but he'll get that when we get to training camp."

Among the tweaks Guenther and Dennard want to improve are his blitz moves. To hear the young cornerback tell it, he doesn't have any right now. Guenther politely agrees, and wants to see him hone his ability coming off the outside edge toward the passer.

"We'll have periods in the practice where everybody will work on their blitz techniques," Guenther said. "Everybody's got to be proficient with that so anybody could come at any time."

As linebackers coach, Guenther was the architect of some of the Bengals' more creative blitz packages when Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator. Guenther designed plays that brought players from all levels and angles. Safeties and cornerbacks this season will have their share of rushes from up high.

So what does Dennard need to do to start blitzing better?

"Probably need to find some moves," he said.

Could Hall have something to share as a veteran whose style of play is similar to Dennard's according to coaches?

"You have to stay talking to him, but you got to find your own thing," Dennard said.

Another check. Be your own man.

How about a defensive lineman? Might they have a move he can mimic?

"Maybe," Dennard said. "I can ask how they use their hands and how they get offensive linemen to get their hands of them to get to the quarterback. Talking to them would definitely help me, so I will do that in the future."

Yet again a check. Be your own man, but don't be afraid to get insight from someone who makes their living doing what you're trying to do.

For now, Dennard keeps saying the right things. If he keeps saying them and keeps believing in them, he will find the deep Bengals secondary will need his services a lot sooner than he's anticipating. He will have earned the right to be a key contributor.
CINCINNATI -- The Bengals begin the mandatory phase of their offseason practices Tuesday morning when they host the first of three consecutive minicamp practices at Paul Brown Stadium.

Each player on the team is required to be in attendance for the minicamp sessions that last until Thursday morning. The arrival of minicamp in Cincinnati signals the start of the second half of the practice portion of their offseason calendar. After this week, the Bengals revert back to the voluntary organized team activity (OTA) model of practice for three days. After that, they'll break for the summer.

Training camp starts July 24.

As the mandatory minicamp -- all of which will be open to media -- gets going this week, here are five things to watch for:

Gresham
1. Will Gresham be there? Through the first two weeks of OTAs, tight end Jermaine Gresham has been a noticeable absence. He didn't participate in either of the two practices that were open to media, and he wasn't even seen around the stadium in any other capacity those two days, either. Coach Marvin Lewis said last week that Gresham was in Cincinnati, though, and that he was rehabbing from an injury the coach said wouldn't keep him out of training camp. At this point, Gresham's absence is a mystery. We'll perhaps get a few more definitive answers during the minicamp. If any do come, don't expect them to come from the often media shy Gresham. It bears noting that he has been around the locker room during other voluntary workouts this offseason. He just has yet to be seen by reporters since OTAs began. Will Tuesday by that day? We shall see.

2. Will Still be there? Presumably, defensive tackle Devon Still will be in attendance for the minicamp after missing OTAs to deal with a personal issue last week. Along with Gresham, Still was a noticeable absence when media viewed an open OTA session last Tuesday. He revealed in a post to social media later in the week that he and his family learned his young daughter has cancer. Earlier this week, he tweeted a photo showing he's shaved his head to support his daughter who will go through chemotherapy. Although injured for much of the latter half of last season, Still was and continues to be a key piece to the Bengals' defensive line depth chart. Assuming Geno Atkins returns during training camp from his ACL injury, Still and Brandon Thompson are right now the first two defensive tackles off the bench behind Atkins and Domata Peko.

lastname
Bernard
3. RB rotation getting set? We are still about three months from the start of the regular season, but it appears we may be getting a general idea of what the Bengals' backfield may look like this fall. Giovani Bernard has been moved into a more prominent role, although the Bengals are expected to continue with the committee approach to delegating carries and receptions. Alongside him often during the two open OTAs was rookie Jeremy Hill, the team's prized second-round pick who promises to be a key piece in the backfield as veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis enters the final year on his current deal. Speaking of Green-Ellis, the Bengals have been adamant in their belief a roster spot remains for the 28-year-old, but Hill's arrival hasn't made it easy to justify Green-Ellis' future in Cincinnati. As the Bengals go through this week, it still will be interesting to see how the running back rotations shake out. Will Green-Ellis stay in the mix? Or is Hill starting to push past him?

4. Making tempo a priority. Offensively, the Bengals' charge this offseason has been to adopt coordinator Hue Jackson's tweaked scheme that includes a quicker tempo and a faster pace. His goal has been to get his players to come out of the huddle quickly so they can get to the line of scrimmage much earlier in the play clock, effectively allowing them to run more plays in a drive and game. It's been an offensive priority, but we haven't been able to gauge how much of a priority it's been for the defense, too. Overall, practices seem to be conducted at a faster speed than they were last season, particularly during 11-on-11 drills when the defense is shifting fronts, moving around constantly, and the offense is making pre-play calls to counter. Jackson isn't the only coordinator trying to spice up his unit. It appears Paul Guenther has done the same with the defense. The minicamp should show a little more of that.

5. Grooming the rookies. The Bengals have eight draft picks and 11 undrafted free agents they still are trying to both groom and assess before the season begins. Many of the evaluations will be done in training camp, but coaches are looking right now to see how well the first-year players can adapt to the coaching and new playbooks. A foundation for late July is being at this time, and these three practices can go a long way toward giving the Bengals a better idea of who the young players they just brought on are. Among the rookies who will be scrutinized the next few months, cornerback Darqueze Dennard may top the list. While Hill's place in the backfield is beginning to take shape, the first-round pick Dennard has a more difficult obstacle to overcome to play; he has several veterans ahead of him. Already, though, Dennard has gotten his share of early instruction and played with both the first- and second-team defenses in open OTAs.
CINCINNATI -- Since we've already broken down the contracts of every Cincinnati Bengals rookie who has so far signed, we'll make this brief.

Below is a quick look at the cap space the Bengals' drafted rookies will eat up with their contracts from now through 2017, when they'll be eligible to negotiate their second NFL deals. Keep in mind, these numbers only include draft picks from Rounds 2-7. First-round pick Darqueze Dennard remains unsigned, although we already have an idea of what his cap value will be across the life of his first contract.

Per the rookie wage scale set forth by the latest collective bargaining agreement, Dennard is scheduled to make just short of $8 million the next four seasons. He also is expected to take up nearly $1.5 million of cap space this season.

With Dennard included, the Bengals' drafted rookies are expected to eat $4,992,654 of cap space in 2014. Currently, without him, the other seven rookies are taking up $3,541,945 in cap space this season.

Why is this important? Because the near $5 million that Bengals rookies will command this season eats into the more than $24 million Cincinnati has remaining in cap space. With the $5 million factored in, the Bengals are closer to $19 million remaining in cap space. That's $19 million that they're still trying to figure out how to split between linebacker Vontaze Burfict and quarterback Andy Dalton in potential new deals. Reports this offseason have indicated that Dalton could command an annual salary of $18 million, while Burfict could take home about $9 million.

Remember, when it comes to cap space and other financial concerns, everything is related. Dennard's deal connects to Dalton's which connects to Burfict's. The numbers reportedly connected to each contract play but a small role in the challenge of trying to sign all three this season. At the very least, Dennard can take solace that he'll eventually see his money this season. There's still a chance that Burfict or Dalton (or both) could play out the season on their current, comparatively low-paying rookie contracts.

Burfict is currently set to make around 570,000 this season. Dalton is scheduled to make nearly $1.7 million.

Here's a look at where the Bengals stand with rookie wages so far:

Since so many questions were sent following Friday's call for this weekend's mailbags, we ended up having room for a second, albeit shorter, mailbag entry.

This is it.

And, we'll get right to it with our first question about outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur:

 
CINCINNATI -- Our friend Scott Kacsmar of Football Outsiders had this interesting ESPN Insider Insider article Tuesday that kind of got my brain working.

So, in an effort to get you thinking, too, I decided to pose to you, our loyal Cincinnati Bengals readers, one of the questions he was answering.

Is cornerback a hole for the Bengals?

SportsNation

Where is the Bengals' biggest roster weakness?

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    26%
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    13%
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    13%
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    34%
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    14%

Discuss (Total votes: 802)

The overall story attempted to address the single biggest holes that remain for each AFC North team. If you take a look at the link, you'll see the Bengals aren't the only ones in the division who Kacsmar believes needs help in the back end of their defense.

Before getting too deep into the conversation about cornerback, it bears mentioning that Kacsmar said he would have considered the coordinator positions to be the holes most worthy of the Bengals' attention if he wasn't focusing on player personnel. In January former offensive coordinator Jay Gruden and former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer accepted jobs serving as the head coaches in Washington and Minnesota, respectively. They were replaced by internal hires Hue Jackson and Paul Guenther, who promise to build off the schemes Gruden and Zimmer left them.

The reason Kacsmar believes cornerback is the Bengals' biggest hole with respect to player personnel is because their primary offseason addition there, rookie Darqueze Dennard, doesn't figure to be an immediate fix to what could soon become a problem. The issue? Cincinnati is getting older at the position. Leon Hall has battled injury in recent seasons and at 29 is starting to fight age, too. Adam Jones will be 31 in September. Terence Newman will be 36 that month, too.

Dennard probably won't play much this first season, although he has been gaining valuable experience through the first two weeks of voluntary organized team activities, practicing with the first-team defense. On Tuesday, he ran with the first team as a slot corner, playing the position Hall will have once he returns fully from an Achilles injury that sidelined him last October. Hall expects to be back to full activity sometime next month before training camp starts July 24.

Some would consider Dennard the solution to the Bengals' cornerback age problem. He was, after all, the best player available when the Bengals drafted him, and they used a first-round pick on him. They also knew that like a lot of rookie corners he didn't stand much of a chance to start regularly this season. Still, they believed he had a strong chance to do so next year.

Dennard also was praised in college for being the type of cornerback Kacsmar said the Bengals needed: a true man-to-man defender who kept constant pressure on his opposing, typically single-covered receiver. That style of play made Dennard the head honcho of Michigan State's self-proclaimed "No Fly Zone" defense.

So we turn it to you. Did Dennard's addition do enough to convince you cornerback wasn't a hole for the Bengals? Or do you agree with Kacsmar and believe that since he won't see the field much this year, Dennard didn't really help address Cincinnati's cornerback age issue? Or do you believe there's actually another position that deserves the Bengals' attention for fixing first? Is the offensive line a hole? The defensive line? The linebacker corps? Or is it another position altogether?

Vote in our poll and share your thoughts. If you think the issue is another position we didn't mention, feel free to type it into the comments below.
CINCINNATI -- For the second time in as many weeks Jermaine Gresham's absence headlined one of the Cincinnati Bengals' voluntary organized team activities.

As you'll read here, injuries and absences weren't the only events worth mentioning from Tuesday's practice.

Here is a rundown of seven observations from the open session:

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
Al Behrman/AP PhotoBengals' first-round pick Darqueze Dennard sees plenty of action on the field during Tuesday's OTAs.
1. Dennard gets work. Rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard, the Bengals' first-round pick, got his share of action with the first-team defense playing the slot cornerback position early in the practice. He also got his share of snaps at the right cornerback position, playing on the outside with second-teamers such as fellow cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick. If you recall, Kirkpatrick told reporters last month that he hoped the Bengals would draft a cornerback in the first round because he felt that with Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman getting up in age, it was time the cornerback group got younger. His hope is that he and Dennard can form a solid tandem for years to come. It's clear the learning still is taking place for Dennard. Coaches were in his ears often, talking to him after many of the first-team plays.

2. Hill and Bernard a tandem? Speaking of duos, the Bengals may already have one at running back with second-year player Giovani Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill. When the Bengals picked Hill in the second round, it seemed they were committing to making him not only part of their backfield of the long-term future, but also to using him in their immediate plans, as well. It's clear after the first two open OTAs that they are trying to see whether he'll be ready to be used regularly this fall. So far, Hill has gotten his share of hand-offs with the first-team unit alongside Bernard. The two have been in the backfield at the same time, in addition to trading roles as the lone back in single-back sets that get called. It's left veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis a little bit out of the starting picture. Green-Ellis has gotten his opportunities to work in Cincinnati's running back rotation, one that includes Rex Burkhead and Cedric Peerman, but it's clear Hill and Bernard are trending toward being the top tandem in the Bengals' backfield.

3. D-line rotations. Cincinnati's defensive line will get its share of tweaks and looks all throughout this OTA season as Geno Atkins continues rehabbing from an ACL tear. Those rotations include figuring out exactly where the large group of defensive ends will go, and determining which of them will have duties as defensive-tackle pass-rushers in nickel defenses. It appears Carlos Dunlap, the end who had been playing on the left side, might end up getting real action at right end this year. Second-year lineman Margus Hunt likely would take his spot on the left side. Wallace Gilberry could rotate with Hunt at left end, with rookie Will Clarke potentially doing the same with Dunlap on the right side. In nickel situations, Gilberry has fit on the interior of the line often in practices, just as he did at times last season. In truth, though, multiple ends could rotate into playing on the interior. Hunt and Clarke most specifically have backgrounds playing there.

4. Keep a close eye ... on the Bengals' offense this fall. Offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has alluded to them in the past, but don't be surprised if the Bengals incorporate a few trick plays next season. They certainly have the capability with all the playmakers they have, but the added luxury of having a player as versatile as Mohamed Sanu helps. The receiver is a former quarterback who still throws accurate, tight passes. He's also athletic enough to be a threat to run or pass if he gets the ball behind the line of scrimmage. It's quite possible Jackson uses him and others for a host of unique reasons as he starts injecting some life and big-play capability into the Bengals' scheme.

5. Slow movers. Jackson was none too pleased once during practice when he shouted to players about breaking the huddle too slowly. This is only worth mentioning because tempo and pacing are two things he and others have harped on all offseason as Cincinnati's offense gets tweaked. Jackson wants the Bengals to break their huddles quickly so they can get to the line, dissect the defense, make any changes, and get the ball snapped early in the play clock. In that sense, it's not a true no-huddle, but it will operate at a pace that requires the play to come in quickly from the sideline and relayed even faster. Jackson hopes to limit the amount of times he has to call out a slow-moving huddle.

6. Burden practices. The newest Bengal, Cincinnati-area product Chandler Burden, practiced Tuesday. He had just cleared a physical and was signed earlier in the morning. The offensive lineman can be used at either tackle or guard. His addition comes at the same time center/guard Mike Pollak has missed time during OTAs with an unspecified injury.

7. Green in midseason form? The NFL's official Twitter account tweeted a picture Tuesday afternoon of receiver A.J. Green leaping high and catching a pass (see below). The photo tagged Green's handle and said he was "already in midseason form." It may have been easy to see that from the picture, but it was pretty evident just by watching the way he was going for passes that Green was practicing at a high level. He looked like an elite receiver at times, running through routes and catching difficult passes he could have otherwise let sail on by in a voluntary workout. He jumped at least three times for passes, including through defenders at least once.
 
CINCINNATI -- After closing their last two organized team activity practices to the media last week, the Cincinnati Bengals are back open Tuesday morning as they begin the second week of voluntary OTAs.

There was a lot gleaned from the lone open practice last week, and there ought to be even more learned this week as the team starts finally settling into the flow of the workout schedule. Following this week's three practices, the team will convene again three times next week for a mandatory minicamp before meeting for one final three-day stretch of OTAs the week of June 16. After that players are released until July 24, when they begin training camp at Paul Brown Stadium.

Ahead of this week's lone day of open practice, here are a few items to watch for:
  • Gresham's status. Tight end Jermaine Gresham was the lone holdout during last week's workouts. According to Bengals.com, he has an injury he suffered earlier this offseason, but isn't believed to be in jeopardy of missing training camp. We'll see if more official word will be provided by the team Tuesday, and if he ends up making at least a sideline appearance. Last week, other injured players, Leon Hall, Geno Atkins, Clint Boling and Mike Pollak showed up but did not go through the full practice. Pollak didn't go through stretching like the other three.
  • Offensive line rotations. With Pollak presumably still out, we'll be keeping an eye on the Bengals' offensive line rotation. Last week they subbed Trevor Robinson and rookie Russell Bodine in at center. With Boling still out rehabbing from his ACL injury, Pro Bowl left tackle Andrew Whitworth got a few snaps at left guard just as he did at the end of last season. Others played the position with the first-team unit, as well, though, including undrafted free agent Trey Hopkins. At this stage in the offseason, it's all about getting reserves some meaningful snaps and figuring out who might be able to play where in the event an emergency insertion is needed.
  • Rookie learning curve. Along with Bodine and Hopkins, the Bengals have 18 other first-year players who are trying to pick up their offensive and defensive schemes and acclimate themselves to the terminology both playbooks have. Cornerback Darqueze Dennard addressed his steep learning curve in interviews last week. He said he's been helped by many of the veterans on the defense, including third-year linebacker Vontaze Burfict. Two other rookies to watch this week are running back Jeremy Hill and quarterback AJ McCarron. Both missed part of last week while attending the NFLPA's "Rookie Premiere" event in Los Angeles. After practicing last Tuesday, they were at the event Wednesday and Thursday, meaning they will be a bit behind their peers now that they are back this week.
  • Defensive line rotations. Much like the offensive line with its changes due to injuries, the Bengals experimented with defensive line rotations last week and ought to continue to do so. Second-year defensive end Margus Hunt got some playing time at left end, although that was the position Carlos Dunlap occupied much of last season. Dunlap played some at right end, as well, as the Bengals started tinkering with possible switches along the front based upon the packages they're playing. Several of the ends could see action on the line's interior as part of pass-rush details in Cincinnati's nickel defense.
  • Lamur's place. After missing the entire 2013 regular season, outside linebacker Emmanuel Lamur is back. More of a cover linebacker, the Bengals would like to see if he can stay on the field often as their linebacker rotation takes shape. With his size and length, the 6-foot-4 Lamur matches up well with tight ends. In a division that has some good ones, it'll be important the Bengals have such a healthy defender of Lamur's make up this year.
  • Tempo, tempo. It wasn't hard to notice the Bengals' stepped up offensive tempo during last week's practices. It probably won't change this week, either. Again, it's not so much that the Bengals are getting into hurry-up mode, it's just that they're getting out of the huddle and to the line a lot quicker.
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals waived backup defensive tackle Ogemdi Nwagbuo on Friday, pushing their offseason roster down to 87 players.

He was waived under the category of "non-football illness."

The sixth-year lineman was scheduled to become a restricted free agent at the end of the 2014 season after signing a one-year deal with the organization at the start of this offseason. With Nwagbuo's release, the Bengals will have a cap savings of $645,000 this season.

Nwagbuo was a postseason addition last year after defensive tackle Devon Still was unable to play due to a back injury that flared up during a practice. While he was on the roster for the Bengals' wild-card round loss to San Diego, Nwagbuo was declared inactive for the game.

Before arriving in Cincinnati in January, the San Diego native had played for the Chargers, Panthers and Lions between 2009-12. The undrafted free agent began his career with San Diego, recording a career-high 19 tackles in 2009.

Nwagbuo's release comes as the Bengals are still trying to sign first-round draft pick Darqueze Dennard. He's the only draft pick the Bengals have yet to sign. Per the rookie wage scale that was set in the latest collective bargaining agreement, Dennard is slated to make nearly $8 million across his first four seasons.
CINCINNATI -- When the Bengals made cornerback Darqueze Dennard their first-round pick earlier this month, they did so with their immediate future in mind.

Terence Newman is 35 and is scheduled to hit free agency next spring. Adam Jones isn't too far behind him. Leon Hall is turning 30 at the end of year and is coming off his second major injury in three seasons. As much as the Bengals respect and appreciate what the trio has accomplished in recent years, they know it's time to start preparing for life after them.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Al BehrmanDarqueze Dennard (left) knows that a he can learn a lot from veteran players like Terence Newman.
So Dennard, a 22-year-old who was named college football's top defensive back last year, was added to the mix when the Bengals' pick rolled around at No. 24.

The rookie understands his place in the team's cornerback hierarchy and knows he may not see much playing time defensively this fall. He's OK with that, though, because he believes his time will come soon enough.

"I'm just waiting on my moment," Dennard said earlier this week following the Bengals' first organized team activity practice.

He's also waiting on something else: a contract. The Bengals have already signed their other seven draft picks, but they haven't yet inked Dennard to his deal. Despite the delay in getting him paid, Dennard has been participating as the Bengals go through their first series of full-team offseason practices. He said Tuesday that he wasn't worried about not having a contract, but remains hopeful that an agreement will be made soon.

As far as his place in the Bengals' cornerback rotation, for now, Dennard is trying to learn from the likes of Newman, Jones, Hall and third-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.

"Those guys have been playing a long time in the NFL and have a lot of games under their belt," Dennard said. "I'm here to play. That's my mindset -- to get on the field -- but being under the tutelage of them is going to help me, as well. A lot of guys don't have the same chance I have. Those veteran guys have played a lot of games and have done great things on the football field. I have them and I'm going to use them."

Dennard added that he is already peppering the vets with questions about playing the position and being a professional player, in general. He wants to be a pest to them and anyone else who's willing to help him navigate this next stage of his development.

"I'm probably going to get on their nerves by asking them so many questions, but I'm going to use that to better me as a player and a person," Dennard said. "Hopefully I'll have the same kind of career as them."

His career could begin this season by getting the majority of his playing time on special teams. Possible injuries aside, for now, the depth ahead of him at corner will make it difficult for him to get on the field. Newman and Jones opened this week's OTAs as the starting boundary cornerbacks. Kirkpatrick got time with the second-team corners alongside Chris Lewis-Harris, a third-year corner who was active for six games last season. In time, the expectation is that Dennard and Kirkpatrick will be the top options at the two boundary spots.

Kirkpatrick still has to prove he's starting material. As well as he played at times filling in for an injured Newman last season, Kirkpatrick still gave up his share of touchdown passes and got burned on occasion in coverage.

Dennard seldom got burned at Michigan State. He held opposing receivers to just 5.78 yards per catch, the lowest figure for a defensive back during the entire BCS era. He and the rest of the Spartans' defensive backfield considered themselves so effective against the pass that he nicknamed the group "No Fly Zone" last summer.

Part of what made Michigan State's "No Fly Zone" live up to Dennard's nickname was the intense nature of his single-coverage play on opposing receivers. He blanketed pass-catchers so well in college the Bengals believed he needed to be in their defense.

Dennard's former college teammate, current Spartan safety Kurtis Drummond, said Dennard's coverage was a credit to his preparation.

"He works on it. That's not something he just throws himself in," Drummond said. "That's something that he's very prepared to do. Something he takes pride in. He's a competitor and he wants to be the best at whatever he does."
CINCINNATI -- As Darqueze Dennard walked Tuesday toward the Cincinnati Bengals' locker room, he paused for a moment to listen to co-defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.

The new Bengals assistant was giving the rookie a brief tutorial on technique.

Dennard nodded as Joseph spoke. Everything the coach was saying made sense. Everything anyone here tells the first-round draft pick makes sense. Practicing what's preached to him, however, isn't so easy. Like countless other rookies across the league, Dennard has been inundated with information the past two weeks. His mind has been racing. Once it stops, Dennard is convinced the information Joseph and all the Bengals' veteran cornerbacks have shared will start making sense.

[+] EnlargeDarqueze Dennard
AP Photo/Al Behrman"Money's not a big thing on my mind," Darqueze Dennard said. "The only thing on my mind is helping the team out and winning championships."
What doesn't yet make complete sense in his mind is the fact that he still doesn't have a contract with the Bengals. Negotiations are ongoing, he understands. He's not sure when he'll officially be paid to wear the stripes.

"I don't know what's going on," he said, shaking his head at his locker following the Bengals' first practice of organized team activities (OTAs). "I guess it's just a timing thing."

Dennard is the only Bengals draft pick who hasn't yet signed with the team. Earlier in the day Tuesday, the Bengals announced that second-round pick running back Jeremy Hill and third-round pick defensive end Will Clarke had signed. Both, like Dennard, participated in the late-morning practice.

As of Tuesday afternoon, 10 of the 32 first-round picks in this year's draft had signed contracts. The No. 23 overall pick, defensive end Dee Ford, signed with the Chiefs over the weekend. Like the others, Ford reportedly signed to the amount that he was slotted for at the pick where he was taken.

Per the rookie wage scale that was set forth in the latest collective bargaining agreement, Dennard, at pick No. 24, should make just less than $8 million across his first four seasons. That would bring him to about $1.5 million in cap value in 2014. That figure would increase over the final three seasons. He also would be eligible for more than $4 million in a signing bonus that would be paid over the life of the contract.

Thanks to that rookie wage system, the days of first-year players holding out until training camp or going through the entire OTA schedule without a contract are gone. Teams come into the draft with an idea of about how much they may be spending on each of their slotted draft picks for the next four years. So even if Dennard isn't sure when his contract will come, the Bengals really have no reason to keep him from his money, even if he's seemingly OK with them doing that.

"Money's going to come," Dennard said. "If you do a great job in this game, you'll get rewarded for it. Money's not a big thing on my mind. The only thing on my mind is helping the team out and winning championships."

Judging by how quickly the other contracts were hammered out last week, his deal should come before the week is over.

Regardless, Dennard said he wasn't worried about getting hurt while not getting paid.

"I pray every day. If it's meant to happen, it's going to happen, regardless," Dennard said. "I give all my worries and problems to God. I know He's got a right plan for me. I'm going to believe in it."

For now, the Bengals' plans involve making sure he understands their defense and has a strong grasp of the techniques they use. That's why Joseph and the veterans Dennard has been hearing from will continue to get in his ears before, during and after practices.

"Everybody says it's faster [in the NFL], but I don't really think it is," Dennard said. "Everybody can run the same and everybody can jump as high. The difference is your mindset and how fast it's going in your brain. That's what I'm trying to adjust to right now. Everything is still going 100 mph. I'm just trying to slow it down."
CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Bengals are now one draft pick shy of having all eight under contract.

The team announced Tuesday morning that it had officially signed second- and third-round picks Jeremy Hill and Will Clarke. Their fourth- to seventh-round draft picks had all been signed last week. Only first-round cornerback Darqueze Dennard remains.

Hill took to Twitter on Sunday, heading off the team's announcement.

Under the league's rules regarding rookie wages, as set in the latest collective bargaining agreement, Clarke likely will command nearly $560,000 in cap space in 2014. The defensive end could end up making around $550,000 in bonuses across the life of his rookie deal, and see his base salary increase each of the final three years. When official numbers from his contract are provided, we'll update them.

As the Bengals start organized team activities (OTAs) Tuesday, Clarke will be among the rookies to watch. He comes to a position group that already has Carlos Dunlap, Wallace Gilberry, Robert Geathers and Margus Hunt. Clarke would give them another body at the position, and one that mirrors former defensive end Michael Johnson, who signed with Tampa Bay as a free agent this offseason.

At 6-foot-6 and more than 270 pounds, Clarke has a long frame and long arms that are reminiscent of Johnson's. The Bengals are hoping he can disrupt passes at the line of scrimmage and hound quarterbacks from both the exterior and interior of the defensive line. Like some of the other ends, Clarke has a good chance to play at tackle in certain scenarios. Typically that occurs in nickel defenses, but Clarke played tackle on any down and in any situation while in college at West Virginia.

Clarke also said he's hoping to get up to 290 pounds by the start of the regular season in September.

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