Don't write off Darqueze Dennard, Paul Guenther warned earlier this week.
"The job's wide open," said Guenther, the Bengals' top defensive assistant. "You can never have enough good corners to go. [Dennard] is battling his ass off for a spot, and it's good competition for everybody."
As the Bengals started closing down their three-week long organized team activities (OTAs) Tuesday, Dennard received a fair amount of action with both the first- and second-team base defenses. He took full advantage of those chances, and appeared to prove he is keeping pace with Kirkpatrick for legitimate playing time.
Among other exploits during the open OTA, Dennard intercepted a pair of passes from quarterbacks Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron. On the McCarron pickoff, he expertly timed the quarterback's release, jumping the route for a turnover during a one-on-one drill. The Dalton interception came during a full-team drill when Dennard craftily, without contact, blocked receiver Brandon Tate's path to the ball on a Post route, and turned his body to pull off his best Willie Mays impression.
"I had a great position on the ball," Dennard said. "All I had to do was catch it."
He may not have caught many interceptions in other OTA practices, but very few corners did. Regardless, Dennard's overall play this offseason has been good enough to keep the attention of coaches and veteran corners like Leon Hall.
"It's not surprising, honestly," Hall said of his second-year teammate's play this spring. "Last year when he came here, he played well. He was one of those guys that stood out in the OTAs. He's one of those guys who early on made a point of it to just play well. He played pretty well then and kind of kept it going."
Guenther was quick to point out that Dennard has gotten action at both boundary corner positions, as well as in the slot. While they want to use him on the edge, too, the Bengals' long-term plans seem to include using Dennard much the way they have used Hall the bulk of his nine-year career; as the nickel corner in the slot.
That plan was evident after last year's draft when former Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer went on record comparing the two cornerbacks. Noted for their suffocating man-press play, they had similar technical skills.
If Dennard had his way, though, that's where the comparisons would end.
"Leon's been playing nine years at a high level; an All-Pro player, big contracts ... I haven't reached that," Dennard said. "That's high [praise] to even be put in the boat with Leon. I haven't made it there yet, but I hope I can. I'm a competitive person, so I want to be that and more. Those are big shoes to fill."
It appears he's well on his way to filling them.
"He's looked really good this spring," Guenther said of Dennard, who lost about 10 pounds this offseason. "He's a lot more leaner, he's a lot quicker out of his breaks. He understands being through it a year now what we're asking him to do."