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Darqueze Dennard focused on staying healthy in 2017

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The former first round pick has seen more than his share of injury-related setbacks, but he is ready to put that all behind him in 2017.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Bengals selected Darqueze Dennard with the 24th overall pick of the 2014 NFL Draft due to his impressive frame, play speed, and personality. Unfortunately, injuries were a problem for him in college and they have continued to be a problem for him in the NFL. Although he was drafted to compete for a starting spot, he has yet to play a full 16 game season, has had three back-to-back training camp injuries and his production has suffered as a result. That’s why he is solely focused on one goal in 2017: staying healthy.

“Right now, stay healthy,” Dennard told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “That’s been my problem the whole time. Not being healthy. It’s not that I can’t play. I’m just not healthy.”

In the limited playing time Dennard has received with the Bengals, he has been up and down and largely unreliable. He’s had 76 total tackles, 1 sack, 5 pass deflections, and 1 interception in 39 games and four starts. The Bengals would certainly like to see more consistent production out of him, but that is where staying healthy in 2017 comes into play.

“It’s my first time in OTAs and going out healthy and having a full summer to really train my body and do a lot of things I haven’t been able to do since I came out,” Dennard said. “It’s about that time (to be healthy). I changed my body to get stronger, quicker, faster.”

How, you ask?

“I’m leaner,” Dennard said.

At 5’11” and 198 pounds, Dennard is one of the shortest cornerbacks on the team, taller than only Adam Jones and Tony McRae by an inch. However, he is also one of the heaviest cornerbacks on the team, lighter than only Josh Shaw (200 pounds), who is also two inches taller. Part of Dennard’s appeal when the Bengals first drafted him was his impressive muscular frame for a cornerback, paired with his aforementioned play speed.

Granted, slimming down might not be the first thing that comes to mind when focusing on reducing his potential for injury. After all, more padding means more protection, right? Actually, in Dennard’s case, there is a strong possibility all the extra weight was too much for the amount of work the Bengals were expecting of him, so slimming down could result in a significant reduction of pressure on his body.

All in all, Dennard says he’s trying to make his coaches happy and trying to stay healthy after three training camp/preseason injuries leading up to this year. It’s not easy to see the field during the regular season when you don’t see it in the lead up to the season.

If his offseason workout strategy succeeds, the Bengals could finally see a fully healthy season from their former first round pick, and hopefully the kind of production they were hoping to see all along. With Adam Jones’ increasing age, there will soon be an opportunity for Dennard to compete for a top starting spot with William Jackson III. For both players, there’s a load of potential, but health has been a concern in their NFL careers. For Dennard, his window of opportunity to establish himself as a consistent contributor and win that starting job is quickly closing, so he must take the next step in 2017 to remain in the Bengals’ good graces and earn time on the field sooner than later.

“It’s never changed,” Dennard told My Dayton Daily News. “My goal is to be the starter and be the best corner on this team and one day one of the best in the NFL.”

Everyone wants to see Dennard succeed, now it’s up to him to make it happen.