Darqueze Dennard: Bengals, 1st-round pick agree to deal

CINCINNATI -- The Bengals inked top draft pick Darqueze Dennard to a contract Thursday on the last day of the mandatory minicamp.

Dennard, a cornerback out of Michigan State, was taken with the 24th overall pick in 2014 NFL draft. The received a four-year deal worth $7.98 million with a $4.12 million signing bonus, according to NFL.com's Ian Rapoport. 

He's the last of the Bengals' eight draft picks to sign with the team.

“Of course it’s great to have all this done well before we come back for training camp,” said head coach Marvin Lewis.

Even though Darqueze didn't formally sign until Thursday, the Cincinnati coaching staff has had a chance to evaluate him. And the 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive back has had a chance to make an impression on them.

“As for Darqueze, he’s been everything we hoped he would be to this point," said a Lewis, a defensive-minded coach who has a love affair with drafting defensive backs high in the draft.

"(Dennard) played in a big-time pressure defense at Michigan State and he’s not afraid to be out there (in coverage) by himself. And as we knew he would, he conducts himself every day as a mature pro who wants to get better every day.”

The 22-year-old was a USA Today first-team All-American last season for a 13-1 team that was unbeaten in the Big Ten and ranked No. 3 nationally after a Rose Bowl win over Stanford. He helped lead the Spartan defense to No. 1 national rankings in fewest yards allowed per game (248.2) and lowest third-down conversion percentage (27.7).

Also last season, Dennard was the winner of the Thorpe Award, given annually to college football’s top defensive back.

Despite his accolades and his new $2 million per year contract, Dennard isn't guaranteed a starting spot. The team also has Leon Hall, Terence Newman, Adam Jones and Dre Kirkpatrick.

There are doubts about each of the corners on the team's depth chart -- they're either too old, too injured or just not good enough anymore. Hall has now injured both Achilles tendons, two years apart.

Most draft experts considered corner an area the team had to address.

But nothing is going to be handed to Dennard  -- not by the coaching staff or the veterans he's competing against.

“Starting a rookie at corner, it depends on the person. Darqueze is a very mature person. He’s an achiever also. From high school to college, he’s been a winner," said defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. "His personality, his skill set, I would feel fine starting him. But he’s got to earn it."

Bengals players are currently in town for a mandatory mini-camp for veterans and rookies that runs through Thursday. Dennard was practicing without a contract.

Voluntary organized team activities, or OTAs, will be held June 16 through 19.

Training camp begins July 23. Two weeks after that first practice, the Bengals will travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in their first preseason game.

No official date has been announced for that game. 

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