One of the biggest disappointments among Bengals fans during the 2014 season was how little the team's first-round draft selection played.
Darqueze Dennard was regarded by some as the best cornerback prospect coming into the 2014 NFL Draft, but he managed to slip to Cincinnati at pick No. 24. It seemed the hype surrounding Dennard was justified after Marvin Lewis declared him, "the best rookie corner I've seen."
Despite that proclamation, Dennard only played 61 snaps on defense last season and began to express frustration. He did say he understood the situation of playing behind three vets in Leon Hall, Adam Jones and Terence Newman along with third-year CB Dre Kirkpatrick.
So what's changed going into his second year in the league? Being familiar with and understanding the team's defense is the biggest improvement Dennard says he's made as spring OTAs continue, via Bengals.com:
"I understand the total defense," said Dennard of the difference between last spring and this one. "I wasn’t using my help as much as I should. Now I underdstand what to give up. What the strengths of the defense are, what is it supposed to do, what is it trying to do? I’m more understanding of the game."
It's no secret the Bengals don't like playing rookies, especially if they already have capable players at that position. Lewis would rather allow rookies to sit, watch and learn the system rather than play and deal with the mistakes and growing pains they endure in their first NFL season.
And don't bring up Hall and former Bengal Johnathan Joseph, who started as rookies. They were drafted into defenses that were among the NFL's worst and at the time, the Bengals had little depth at corner, forcing them to play as rookies. Dennard came into a situation where three quality vets and a promising third-year Kirkpatrick made it easy for Lewis to keep Dennard on the bench.
With Newman now gone and Hall and Jones entering contract years, beyond the age of 30, Dennard will quickly go from bench warmer to full-time starter if he shows he's deserving of the role.