Can Darqueze Dennard's luck improve? Corner aims to return by training camp

CINCINNATI -- Darqueze Dennard has had bad injury luck starting the year he became the Cincinnati Bengals' latest first-round draft pick at cornerback.

First a hip injury held him out the second half of the 2014 preseason, and limited his availability the first couple weeks of his rookie year. Hamstring and shin injuries followed later in the season. Another preseason injury last year, this time to his groin, slowed him briefly. Not long after, he finally started earning consistent playing time in the Bengals' cornerback rotation. Active for 10 games, he was beginning to have an impact in the Bengals' secondary when Week 11 arrived.

While trying to stay with speedy Cardinals receiver John Brown on a touchdown pass late in the game at Arizona, Dennard suffered a right shoulder injury that ultimately ended his season. He has spent the past five months recovering and rehabbing from it.

So far, the rehab has been going well. He's no longer sporting a sling, and is around as the Bengals go through their voluntary offseason workout program. He doesn't expect to participate in organized team activities (OTAs) and the mandatory minicamp practices in late May and June. But just as he has stated all along, Dennard anticipates returning in time for training camp.

"[I'm] feeling good," Dennard said this week. "With no setbacks, I'll be ready by training camp."

This time around, he's hopeful he won't just start training camp. He's hopeful he will finish it, too.

For that reason, Dennard's goals for right now are simple: "Be healthy in training camp, get through it, make plays and have fun."

He also has to think that at some point his injury luck will change.

"I've been praying, and I've been doing different things and switching it up, like my meals. I'm stretching a little more and trying to take care of my body all the way around," Dennard said. "Just in talking to the doctors and trainers and stuff, I've just got to peak at the right time."

Last offseason and preseason, he may have peaked too early. Dennard was so upset about the arrhythmic, stop-and-go nature of his rookie year that he thinks he over-dedicated himself to getting better in 2015. By the middle of training camp, his body just couldn't quite keep up.

"Last year what happened in training camp with me being hurt, the season [before] was done and I was upset I didn't play as much," Dennard said. "So I went in and worked hard and went right to training and I just didn't have a break. I've just got to peak at the right time.

"We've got a good plan this year. I'll keep praying, and hopefully my shoulder will be 100 percent and ready to go by training camp and I'll be ready to compete."

When Dennard is fully healthy, he'll likely be the Bengals' starting nickel cornerback. Veteran Leon Hall wasn't re-signed in free agency, opening an opportunity for Dennard to receive more playing time alongside boundary corners Dre Kirkpatrick and Adam Jones.