Bengals DC Paul Guenther still 'high' on Darqueze Dennard

INDIANAPOLIS -- Darqueze Dennard's playing time was limited this past season.

Don't expect it to be this year.

At least that's what Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Paul Guenther imagines will be the case when his team comes out of training camp later this summer.

"He's going to compete this year," Guenther said at the NFL combine Friday.

Dennard, the cornerback the Bengals picked in the first round last May, participated in only 58 snaps on defense as a rookie. Buried on the depth chart below four more veteran corners, he spent the bulk of his time on the field as part of various special teams. Of note, he was one of two gunners the Bengals used regularly on punt coverage teams. That unit ranked fourth in the league during the regular season with a 42.9 net punting average. The Bengals also downed the highest percentage of punts inside the 5 and had the second-highest percentage of punts inside the 10.

Much of what helped send punter Kevin Huber to his first career Pro Bowl was Dennard's -- and fellow gunner Dre Kirkpatrick's -- ability to get downfield quickly and down rolling punts or force fair catches.

As much as all of that helped the Bengals' special teams, Guenther wants Dennard to impact the defense similarly this coming season.

"I probably should have gotten him on the field more," Guenther said. "But it's tough when you have Leon [Hall], you have Pac [Adam Jones], you have Terence [Newman]. But sometimes you've got to be around those guys for you to learn really what it's like to do it."

It would appear those lessons are over for Dennard.

"I'm really high on Darqueze," Guenther added. "He's going to compete this year."

There's no reason to be surprised by Guenther's belief in Dennard. He and other Bengals coaches have been saying the same thing for a while. Multiple times both before and during last season, head coach Marvin Lewis said he thought Dennard was one of the most complete rookie cornerbacks he had ever seen. Guenther echoed those sentiments.

"When we went to Michigan State and we saw him here [at the combine] and we went to his pro day and spent time with him, everything we found out about the kid when he came to our place, was true," Guenther said. "Darqueze, he just needs to play. He just needs to get in there and go. We need to get him in there early in the preseason against the best players, the first-string guys. Put him out there.

"That's one of the things that I always have to remind myself."

Guenther said he expected to give Dennard, and other potential reserves, more valuable snaps during the preseason next August. He has said since the end of this past season that he needed to get players on the back end of his depth chart more involved during training camp. Once the plague of injuries swept through the linebacker position in the middle part of the season, he realized he didn't have the second-tier players prepared to adequately fill their shoes.

"When you get into the preseason, yeah, it's about building chemistry as a defense, but you've got to find out, can this guy do it?" Guenther said. "Just put him out there and see if he can do it with good guys. Don't put him out there with guys that are going to get cut."