Cincinnati Bengals: Veteran Dennard’s return would boost beat-up secondary

Former first-round pick could play Sunday vs. Jaguars after coming off PUP list this week

Darqueze Dennard’s return couldn’t come at a more needy time for the Cincinnati Bengals.

The sixth-year cornerback came off the Physically Unable to Perform list Monday and returned from a knee injury to practice Wednesday for the first time since last season.

The Bengals have a 21-day window to practice him without having to make a move to add him to the 53-man roster, but if all goes well this week, he could play Sunday when the Jacksonville Jaguars come to Paul Brown Stadium.

Cincinnati likely will be without both its starting cornerbacks, as Dre Kirkpatrick and Will Jackson are both “week to week,” according to coach Zac Taylor because of a knee and shoulder injury, respectively.

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“The hope would be that he responds well and is able to play in games,” Taylor said of Dennard. “He certainly has a lot of experience that he brings to the table there, so if that happens, we’d have until Saturday — you’ve got to make a move somewhere there to get him up, but we’ll get a chance to see him practicing this week and that’s encouraging. He feels as good as he’s felt in a long time so it will be good to get Darqueze up and running, first time I’ll get to see him practice, so that will be good.”

The 28-year-old former first-round draft pick underwent a minor knee scope in May and missed all of training camp before the Bengals decided to place him on the PUP to start the season. Taylor said although he wasn’t eligible to return until this week, he’s been ready to do so for a little while.

Dennard said he won’t need much time to get ready to play.

“(Director of Rehabilitation and Performance) Nick (Cosgray) did a great job on the rehab field, as well as (strength and conditioning coach) Joey (Boese) did a great job conditioning and running me through drills and stuff,” Dennard said. “It’s just knocking the rust off covering guys and filling gaps and getting in position to make tackles.”

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Dennard isn’t the only player trying to make his way back after a long layoff. Left tackle Cordy Glenn returned to practice Wednesday and is looking to play for the first time since he self-reported a concussion in the preseason. Glenn had participated in two practices a couple weeks ago in limited fashion before getting shut down again and remains “day-to-day,” according to Taylor, but Dennard has been actively working out on the rehab field for a while now.

Defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo would be glad to have a fresh body to insert into the lineup if Dennard can go Sunday. Safety Brandon Wilson had to step in and play at times in Week 6 against the Ravens while Shawn Williams worked through a thigh injury, and at cornerback, the Bengals are down to Tony McRae and Torry McTyer while B.W. Webb mans the slot.

Anarumo said for an experienced player like Dennard, it wouldn’t be unusual to come back from such a long break and play within the first week of practicing.

“He’s a pro,” Anarumo said. “He’s been playing ball for a long time. I’ve gotten guys on Wednesday afternoon walking on the field during practice and played on Sunday. That’s how I view it. I view it as a veteran guy who has played a ton of football. … He’s been down that road before. So, we’ll fill his plate with stuff as fast as we can.”

Dennard traditionally has played the nickel corner spot but his physicality could prove an asset on the perimeter where opponents have been picking the Bengals apart in the run game.

When asked if Cincinnati would use him on the outside, Taylor said “everything is on the table right now.”

“Historically he has played more in the slot, so we’ll see where he’s most comfortable at these next few days and make determinations from there,” Taylor said. “We’ll see. Right now at DB, we’ve got a lot of moving pieces and we’ll sort it out the next two days and figure out what the best options are.”

Dennard said it’s been tough watching the team struggle through an 0-6 start while being unable to do anything to help. He’s hoping his experience can make a difference, as the Bengals look to climb out of the basement as one of the worst defenses in the league. They rank last in run defense while allowing 184.5 rushing yards per game.

The Jaguars rank among the top half of the league in total offense and rushing offense.

“Me coming back, being a veteran guy and a guy that’s been in battles, playing in games… we have a lot of young guys playing and some veteran guys here as well, so me added to them, just bringing everyone up to speed is going to be a good jell,” Dennard said.


Jaguars at Bengals, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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