Darqueze Dennard Must Walk The Line To Become Great

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

The transition from college corner to NFL shutdown corner is a rare leap, but can Dennard do something that could make him one of the NFL's best or will it keep him from being an NFL starter?

We know about Darqueze Dennard. We know he's a physical cornerback that isn't afraid to play the run, get off blocks and tackle runners. As a coverage man, we know he was highly productive at Michigan State despite being an average athlete. So what does that mean for his NFL future? Does his college game translate to the NFL? First, let's look at how Dennard won at the collegiate level.

Dennard has become as technically advanced as you can be coming out of college. His feet and hand-placement is NFL-ready when he's close to the line of scrimmage (LOS). He's at his best in a press situation.

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Dennard is physical at the line but keeps himself distanced enough to change direction and run with the receiver. At the top of the route, some will say Dennard is too phsycial. He grabs the receiver's helmet and doesn't let him get out of his break. No flag was thrown. So it's good, physical coverage, right?

That's the line Dennard must walk. He must master the proverbial line of Physical Coverage vs Defensive Pass Interference, Holding and Illegal Contact. Some may say -- This will probably keep Dennard from being a very good pro and Bengals fans reply with -- they can coach him out of it.

But, do you want to coach this out of Dennard? The two very best and most shutdown cornerback's in today's NFL, Darelle Revis and Richard Sherman, have been blasted for physical coverage that borders defensive holding by opposing fans. They have mastered this line and it's made them who they are.

Here's Dennard when he let's a WR have a free release:

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Notice how Dennard tries to grab the WR's shoulder at the top of the route but misses?

Dennard struggled to stay with the WR and doesn't change direction well. I'm not knocking him. This is an important part of the evaluation process. Where does he win? You need to find out where your players will succeed.

Here's Dennard shutting down a WR with his physical play style:

Did you see the subtle grabbing and pulling? That slows the WR down and forces him to play at Dennard's speed. This is very important to his success. But think of it from an NFL perspective.

Was that holding? Maybe illegal contact because they were more than 5-yards downfield? That's part of walking the line. There was no flag on that play. So it's just clean, physical coverage, right?

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If this wide receiver was our own AJ Green, would we be calling for a flag?

In off coverage, Dennard must win at the top of each route.

You'll see him get physical and slow down this WR in order to allow Dennard to get in position to play the ball:

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But what happens when he cannot slow the WR down?

The grabbing becomes more obvious and a flag is thrown as Dennard panics and reaches for anything he can.

Dennard was flagged on the above play, but look at this next play where he wasn't.

What's the difference?

The line of physical coverage and illegal coverage is a fine line. The best know how to walk it, does Dennard? I find that his most obvious illegal coverage come on the deep passes when he cannot find the football or when he's looking for it in the air.

Here are some examples.

Again, I don't think his play style needs to change, because I don't think he can be successful as a mirroring CB. Let Dennard press and walk the line. Because when he does, it looks really pretty.

Here, Dennard got his hands on the WR early, rode him to the sideline and boxed the WR out as the ball came.

Easy INT. Watch Darrelle Revis in practice with the Jets. He practiced getting his hands on the WR and walking the line. You'll see him flagged often and you'll obviously see him shut his teammates down with hard coverage.

Dennard is going to become a master technician like Leon Hall and gain the reputation and body control to walk the line as well as Darelle Revis does if he wasn't to continue the success in the NFL that he had in college. If not, we could see a cornerback that is often penalized and is a liability in coverage.

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