CINCINNATI -- One minute, a player can find himself the star of his college football team and the best player in the country at his position.
Seemingly the next, he's an NFL fourth-string backup who barely sees the field.
Cincinnati Bengals rookie cornerback Darqueze Dennard is currently in that exact situation. At this time last year, he was arguably the most integral piece of Michigan State's heralded "No Fly Zone" defensive secondary. But these days, the first-round draft pick is down on the Bengals' depth chart, overshadowed by talented veterans and plagued by injuries that have puzzled him all season.
He admitted earlier this week the combination has him frustrated.
"It is kind of frustrating, but at the same time, everything happens for a reason. I'm big on that," Dennard said. "Of course everybody wants to come in and be the Deion Sanders and play a full game and have a number of interceptions, but that's not how it is. Everybody has different learning experiences. I just have to continue to control what I can and put all my faith in the man upstairs."
He needs patience.
Dennard wasn't expected to come right in and be a secondary superstar. He had the likes of Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Leon Hall -- all with eight or more years of league experience -- to overcome in the preseason. He also had to contend for playing time with third-year cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, another first-round pick who has been relegated to the sideline because of the veterans ahead of him.
Like Kirkpatrick, Dennard acknowledges that he can only perform as well as he can in practices and show up when he has opportunities in games.
Sunday at New Orleans, he had those chances.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, Dennard played 14 snaps against the Saints. That tied for the second-highest number of defensive snaps he's had this year. Much like the other two games he played on defense, Dennard was filling in for an injured Hall. Soreness to one of Hall's Achilles brought the veteran out of Sunday's game and forced Dennard into the action. The Bengals said Hall could have returned, but it was a coach's decision to keep him out and to give Dennard a little extra time.
It was a wise move. The rookie had a tackle and a pass breakup. He also forced a fumble on special teams, the area he has mostly made a name for himself when he hasn't been dealing with hip and hamstring injuries.
Asked about how well he and Kirkpatrick played in place of Hall and Newman -- a pregame scratch -- Dennard began to smile.
"That's what we're supposed to do," he said. "We kind of get paid to do that. That's the expectations of coming in. We were both high first-round draft picks and had high expectations. We both prepare during the week and basically, when our number is called, we just have to make sure there's no letdown from those guys."
Coach Marvin Lewis agreed.
"Both of those guys came in and had good work," Lewis said. "Obviously Dre played his tail off. Darqueze got good snaps and played well. As we go through the year, we're going to need all these guys to contribute at some point.
"These are all young guys who haven't played much football for us, and they had significant snaps [Sunday], and made game-altering plays, game-impactful plays."
Still, Dennard's good plays have yet to get him on the field more regularly. He knows it might take a while.
That's why, again, he needs patience.