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Bengals' Dennard keeps saying right things

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."

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.