People are sleeping on Darqueze Dennard.
If you are like most 49ers fans, the first thought that went through your mind after reading that sentence was, “who?”.
San Francisco had a hole to fill in their secondary after losing slot cornerback K’Wauan Williams to the Denver Broncos in free agency.
When the 49ers defense took the field during the first OTA practice open to the media on Tuesday, it was Dennard who lined up in the slot.
Dennard working with the first team wasn’t a new development. Fred Warner let it slip while speaking with the media before the draft that Dennard was getting work with the first unit during the first few days of offseason workouts.
Dennard entered the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals, who selected him with the 24th pick in the 2014 draft. He was the third cornerback taken in the first round that year behind Justin Gilbert and Kyle Fuller. Dennard was taken ahead of current 49ers teammates Jason Verrett and Jimmie Ward who were also first-round draft picks. He spent six seasons with the Bengals, making 24 starts and recording three interceptions.
After spending 2020 with Atlanta, Dennard bounced Arizona to Indianapolis to the New York Giants in 2021 before landing with the 49ers.
With their secondary wracked by COVID, San Francisco brought Dennard in late last year, signing him to the practice squad on January 4.
Dennard was active for the 49ers in their week 18 matchup with the Los Angeles Rams.
While Dontae Johnson started in the slot, an injury to Jaquiski Tartt forced San Francisco to adjust, with Johnson sliding to safety and Dennard replacing him inside.
After allowing 17 first-half points, the 49ers defense held Los Angeles to only seven in the second half as they came from behind to win in overtime. The victory secured a spot in the playoffs for San Francisco.
A teammate of 49ers long snapper Taybor Pepper in college at Michigan State, Dennard has made an impression on San Francisco head coach Kyle Shanahan.
“He showed me more last year than I expected. Anytime you bring someone in that late there’s not a ton of choices at that time. And to have someone like him who has had the career he’s had and done some things like he has, I knew the name. But for him to come in and to throw him at that nickel position, which was a little new to him, we could just tell,” Shanahan told reporters after OTA practice on Tuesday.
“We had a number of guys get sick, when it was [Denver Broncos CB] K’Waun [Williams] with COVID, our whole secondary with COVID for the Rams game. Just watching him take those reps all week, we were ready to go with him if those guys didn’t come back. I think it ended up being [CB] Dontae [Johnson] who came back the day before, but we were excited last year and to have him here throughout the whole offseason, not just the end of last year, being able to work with him in phase one and phase two and the two practices today, he’s shown he’s got a chance.”
To make the most of his chance, Dennard will need to fend off some contenders for the starting role. During practice Tuesday, rookies Qwuantrezz Knight and Samuel Womack and second-year player Deommodore Lenoir took snaps inside.
Who lines up in the slot will be one of the key position battles to watch throughout the preseason. Dennard is currently the leader in the clubhouse.