Bengals’ Dennard paves way for MSU’s Waynes

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

East Lansing — Rookie cornerbacks often struggle in the NFL, but when they’re drafted in the first round, they often start their career with trial by fire.

Former Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard had the luxury of learning from his Bengals teammates last year, playing a limited role for a team that had four former first-round cornerbacks in Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick.

Even though Dennard thought he was ready to contribute, he wasn’t frustrated with his role primarily being on special teams.

“Everything happens for a reason,” said Dennard, the 24th overall pick in 2014. “It was hard at first to get over with, but you’ve got to understand the position I was in. I’m in a room with four other corners and all five of us were first-round draft picks, talented players.

“It was cool enough to just sit in a room and just watch them and learn the ins and outs and how they went out about their days.”

Last year, Dennard became the first Michigan State defensive back drafted in the first round since Hall of Famer Herb Adderley went to the Packers in 1961. Dennard’s hold on that title likely will last one year as Trae Waynes is expected to be a first-round pick this year.

Dennard returned to East Lansing this week to show support for Waynes and his other teammates as they showcased their skills before NFL scouts. Waynes said Dennard is “like my big brother” and has been motivating him throughout the draft process.

“I just told him to have fun,” Dennard said. “You’re going to meet a lot of coaches. You’re going to meet a lot of people; you’re going to meet a lot of players that you’ve watched around the country.”

With Newman a free agent, Dennard has a clearer path to more playing time after getting in on 61 snaps last year. To prepare for Year 2, he said he’s training in Florida and has adjusted his diet and been doing Pilates and yoga.

“Just see a different player,” he said of what people can expect this season. “Hopefully I’m playing a little bit more on defense and just going out there and having fun and making plays — the plays I made at Michigan State.”

Dennard did have an impact with 17 tackles, one sack and a pass defensed for a team that finished 10-5-1 and earned a wild card in the AFC. In a playoff loss to the Colts, he played 16 snaps.

“I think he’s going to have a tremendous career,” Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said. “Every time I’ve talked to Marvin Lewis, he raves about him as a person, as a player, his work ethic and his skill set and skill level.

“He’s got tremendous upside, and I think he’ll prove to be a guy that serves as a foundation for any program that he sticks with.”