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Darqueze Dennard talks recovery and being Bengals' top corner

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Darqueze Dennard is getting healthy and anticipates a return to full contact when the Bengals open training camp. However, Dennard won't settle for that as he wants to be the team's No. 1 corner.

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For much of Marvin Lewis' tenure, he's made sure cornerback is a position that never lacks talent.

Between Deltha O'Neal, Leon Hall, Johnathan Joseph, Terence Newman, and now Adam Jones, there's typically been at least one star corner on the Bengals' roster at a time, and typically more than one. But of all the corners Lewis and his coaches have developed, it wasn't that long ago that he said Darqueze Dennard was the best rookie corner he'd ever seen.

Unfortunately, we have yet to see that as Dennard has spent much of his brief NFL career either deep on the bench or dealing with injuries.

Last year, a groin injury cost him most of the preseason as he was battling Dre Kirkpatrick for a starting gig on the boundary. Then once Dennard began playing more as the regular season wore on, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in Week 11 at Arizona.

That injury required major shoulder surgery to repair, and it's kept him out of most of the offseason work.
Dennard now has a month off before the Bengals open training camp. He expects to be on the field when the first day of camp opens, as he told ESPN's Coley Harvey.

"I've kind of dealt with a similar injury before, so I'm confident enough to know what to expect during that process I had," Dennard said. "Right now, I'm happy with the process, the doctors are happy. So I'm looking forward to training camp.

"I'm progressing faster, but also, I'm just being smart, as well. Don't want any risk during this time. Nothing is being earned right now."

If Dennard can stay healthy, he should take over the slot corner duties now that Hall is gone. In today's NFL, the third corner is effectively a starter with the nickel defense being the main package the Bengals and many teams use. That means Dennard may very well double or even triple the number of snaps he's gotten through his first two years during the 2016 season.

But Dennard isn't just focused on a starting job. He wants to be this team's No. 1 corner and the guy who takes on the best receivers the NFL has to offer, not just another slot corner.

"Trying to limit me, huh?" Dennard told Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson, referring to the notion he's 'only' going to be a slot corner this season. "I see what you’re saying, but I see myself as a No. 1 corner. I think that’s the mindset of the whole defensive backfield.

"Everyone wants to be a No. 1. That’s what will make us so good. Competing and pushing each other hard is going to make us better as a whole."

As he's done since coming to Cincinnati, Dennard is doing everything he can while keeping faith that everything will work out how it's supposed to.

"I know I can play just by staying healthy and being able to compete at a high level throughout the whole year," Dennard told ESPN. "I'm a big believer in faith and God and I just sit back and pray. Right now this is the place that God wanted me to be at. So I've just got to be ready for my blessing when it comes."

And while the Bengals have a ton of talented corners, Dennard looks like the best option for slot duties. That is, as long as he can stay healthy and get on the field. He needs to have a good year to convince the Bengals to pick up his fifth-year option next offseason and keep him under contract through the 2018 season.