Contract signed, Dennard set to go with Cincy

Former Spartans cornerback pleased with transition into the NFL after being the No. 24 pick in the draft. He talks about his time since leaving Michigan State and joining the Cincinnati Bengals.

Walking into the Michigan State football building last weekend, Darqueze Dennard was all smiles.

He shook hands and shared laughs with former teammates, took pictures with high school football players on hand for a camp and was introduced by coach Mark Dantonio as an All-American and first-round pick. It was a nice break from the primary goal of his trip back to East Lansing: Moving more of his belongings down to Cincinnati.

"I still have my apartment until the end of July, so I still have some stuff in there and I want to take it out because I don't want to get charged for anything," he said. "I still want to keep my money in my pocket."

With a newly signed four-year contract with the Cincinnati Bengals worth about $8 million – $6.5 million guaranteed – and a $4.1 million dollar signing bonus, soon that won't be too much of a concern for Dennard.

"It felt good just to get (the contract) out of the way," he said. "I can focus on football and getting that side of it done so I can focus on helping the team win is good."

The former Spartan and last year's Jim Thorpe award winner as the nation's top cornerback went through initial OTAs (organized team activities) in some of the time since being the No. 24 pick in the NFL Draft. He also spent time acclimating to life in the NFL and a new city with a new fan base.

"It's a real nice city with a lot of great fans – their fan base is crazy," he said. "Walking around and seeing the fans and communicating with those guys is fun."

He has checked out plenty of local eateries, including Cincinnati staples Skyline Chili, Gold Star Chili and LaRosa's Pizzeria. On the field, Dennard said the transition has been smooth and the process of moving to the NFL has been good.

He said much of the time in OTAs was spent with coaches throwing him in and seeing if he can stay afloat.

"They definitely have (thrown a lot at me)," he said. "I am able to adjust with it just coming from this program, Coach D and Coach Duzz and Coach B (Harlon Barnett), they all prepare all of us for this.

"They pretty much run this team as an NFL team, so I was ready for it once they did it."

With the foundation from Michigan State, Dennard has more working in his favor as the fifth cornerback drafted in the first round on the Bengals roster, giving him plenty of veterans to learn from such as Leon Hall.

"It's been really good really, having all those guys," he said. "Since I got drafted a couple guys reached out and talked to me. Me having them to talk to after you make a mistake on the field, you plant wrong or do this wrong instead of doing this, having guys watching and critiquing you is really helpful for me."

He also has been fortunate enough to go through the transition with a pair of familiar faces from his time at Michigan State. The Bengals signed former Spartans in safety Isaiah Lewis and offensive lineman Dan France in the days following the NFL Draft, so both were with him through OTAs.

"Spartans sticking together pretty much," he said. "Having those guys with me throughout the process, working out with each other and making it all comfortable, looking to see each other training, we all push each other and keep motivating each other so we can make the team and help the team win."

With Dennard and Lewis around, though, the Bengals might be a new satellite location of the "No Fly Zone" that was the Spartans' secondary last season.

"We definitely gotta take that mindset down there," he said. "That's the only way we make the team and get on the field is to carry that mindset we had in college and play football."

As for Dennard, no role has been defined for his rookie season. But by all accounts, he has been impressing early in his Bengals career and he says he is just ready to contribute.

"I really don't care what role it is as long as it's me getting to play football, on special teams or on defense, whatever I can do to help the team win, I will do it," he said. "At the end of the day, we've all got the same goal, just to get to the Super Bowl."

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