November 21, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) Top Bengals draft pick Darqueze Dennard is enjoying his rare chances to contribute as a cornerback.

Dennard was in for 21 percent of the plays on defense during Sunday's 27-10 win at New Orleans. The lopsided score provided a chance for the 24th-overall pick from Michigan State to do much more than play special teams, which has been his primary role this season.

The Thorpe Award winner as the nation's top collegiate defensive back last season, Dennard has gotten to play defense only in the blowouts.

''It's kind of frustrating, but at the same time, everything happens for a reason,'' he said. ''I'm big on that.

''Of course, everybody wants to come in and be the Deion Sanders and play a full game and have a number of interceptions, but that's not how it is. Everybody has different learning experiences.''

The Bengals pegged him as a backup for this season when they drafted him. They have veterans Leon Hall, Terence Newman and Adam ''Pacman'' Jones returning as the top three cornerbacks. Dre Kirkpatrick, a first-round pick in 2012, also is ahead of him for playing time.

Dennard knew he was going to have to develop a lot of patience as a rookie.

''Patience and just learning how to be a pro,'' he said. ''That's the biggest thing. I've got three great guys in front of me. They're all in kind of the same role but have been on three different paths as well. I'm just learning from those guys.''

His season started with an injury. Dennard hurt his hip during a preseason game and was inactive for the season opener against Baltimore. He also missed a game because of an injured hamstring.

The Bengals (6-3-1) have used him at cornerback when the game's gotten out of hand. He was in for 23 percent of the plays on defense during a 33-7 win over Tennessee in the third game of the season. He also was on the field for 23 percent of the plays in a 27-0 loss at Indianapolis in the sixth game.

He likely is headed back to a limited role on Sunday when the AFC North leaders play at Houston (5-5).

Dennard and Kirkpatrick are expected to assume larger roles in the coming years. They were on the field together for the end of the game in New Orleans and played well.

''That's what we're supposed to do,'' Dennard said. ''That's the expectations of coming in. We were both high, first-round draft picks and had high expectations.''

Coach Marvin Lewis liked the way his young players finished off the game.

''Obviously Dre played his tail off,'' Lewis said. ''Darqueze got good snaps and played well. As we go through the year, we're going to need all these guys to contribute at some point.''

NOTES: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict has been ruled out for Sunday's game, the fourth he'll miss following knee surgery. Defensive end Margus Hunt also was ruled out with a sprained ankle. ... Running back Giovani Bernard is expected to play on Sunday. He's missed the last three games with an injured shoulder and hip. ... Newman (knee), defensive end Wallace Gilberry (back), guard Mike Pollak (knee), right tackle Andre Smith (ankle) and guard Kevin Zeitler (calf) were listed as probable for the game.

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Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

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