2014 NFL Draft Player Profiles – Michigan State CB Darqueze Dennard
Good friend Dave-Te’ Thomas of Scouting Services has finished his player profiles of several of the top 2014 NFL Draft prospects and over the course of the next few weeks I will be posting the ones that the Pittsburgh Steelers will more than likely have interest in. Being as Michigan State cornerback Darqueze Dennard was in for a pre draft visit recently, now is a good time to post his. Thomas has done these profiles for the NFL for several years and I know that many of you enjoy reading them.
Michigan State University Spartans
Dry Branch, Georgia
Twiggs County High School
Perhaps it is fitting that Dennard’s teammates used to call the Georgia native “Country” earlier in his Spartans career. Based on his stellar performance during his junior campaign that carried over into 2013, where he was simply spectacular, the senior ended the university’s drought for producing All-American and will likely see him become one of the few defensive backs in Michigan State history to be selected in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Ever since Herb Adderley was a first round choice by both the Green Bay Packers and the New York Titans (American Football League; now known as the Jets) in 1961, no other Spartans defensive back has heard their name called in the opening round of the draft. Safety Brad Van Pelt was a first round choice by the New York Giants in 1973, but he was taken as a linebacker, a position he would play throughout his professional career.
In fact, since Adderley was chosen in the first round back in 1961, twenty-five other MSU players were first round choices. Since Adderley, the earliest a Spartans cornerback would be selected was James Burroughs, a third round pick by Baltimore in 1982. Only three other Michigan State defensive backs have been selected in the first three rounds since Adderley became a Packer – safety Bill Simpson (second round by the Los Angeles Rams in 1974), safety Tom Hannon (third round by Minnesota in 1977) and safety Eric Smith (taken by the Jets in the 2006 third round).
Dennard became Michigan State’s first legitimate first-team All-American selection among their secondary performers since Harlon Barnett garnered that honor in 1989. In the history of MSU football, the only defensive backs to receive All-American first-team accolades have been James Ellis (Spartans’ only defensive back to earn that honor twice – 1951/52), Allen Brenner (1968), Van Pelt (1971), Simpson (1973) and James Burroughs (1981).
Only one of eleven defensive backs to be placed on the 2013 Nagurski Award (nation’s best defensive player) Watch List, Dennard is the unquestioned “field general” of a secondary that is part of a squad that led the nation throughout all thirteen weeks in total defense (allowed just 248.15 yards per game). The Spartans also closed out the 2013 regular season schedule leading the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision ranks in rushing defense (80.77 yards per game) and opponent third-down conversions (.277; 53-of-191).
The media has attached the moniker of “Air Traffic Controller” on the senior cornerback and dubbed the territory that Dennard covers as a “No Fly Zone.” The Spartan defender has more than lived up to that lofty billing. During his senior campaign, Dennard had 118 passes targeted into his area, allowing just eighteen of those tosses to be completed (15.25%) for 104 yards, as he recorded fourteen passes defended (four interceptions, ten deflections) and rerouted/jammed his man coverage assignments away from 67 of those tosses (56.78%).
Those receivers produced an average of 5.78 yards per reception vs. Dennard, the lowest figure by any starting defensive back since the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) era began in 1998. He also held the opposition to an average of 0.88 yards per pass attempt.
That pass attempt figure is the lowest ever recorded by any college player since The NFL Draft Report, a scouting information service, began compiling in-depth statistical reports for the league in 1968. In fact, only two other players went through an entire season allowing less that one yard per pass attempt.
Jim Marsalis of Tennessee State, held those receivers to just 0.969 yards per attempt in 1968. Marsalis was selected in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, earning league Defensive Rookie of the Year honors that season. He started for the Chiefs throughout the 1976 season before ending his career as a member of the New Orleans Saints in 1977.
Marsalis was later followed by Deion Sanders of Florida State in 1988 (0.935 yard average), as the two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year made his professional debut with the Atlanta Falcons in 1989 after they selected him in the first round of the draft. He played for Atlanta until 1993, spending time with San Francisco (1994), Dallas (1995-1999) and Washington (2000) before ending his NFL career with Baltimore (2004-2005). That places Dennard is some very elite company, but the “ever so humble” Georgia native has only one goal in mind as his college career came to an end – helping the Spartans defeat Stanford in the 2014 Rose Bowl.
The cornerback often deflects praise to his teammates, calling his success a “team effort.” That attitude has seen the quiet “lockdown” cornerback receive the national attention he rightly deserves in 2013. He is the first Michigan State player to win the Thorpe Award, which has been given to the nation’s best defensive back since 1986. The award was immediately accepted as one of the nation’s top collegiate sports honors. Winners are judged on their performance on the field, athletic ability and character.
Dennard was also the recipient of the Tatum Award, which is given annually to the most outstanding defensive back in the Big Ten Conference and is named in honor of the late Jack Tatum, a three-year starter from 1968-70 and two-time All-American at Ohio State. Known for his tenacity and fierce style of play, Tatum was named National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, as the mainstay of the Ohio State defense for three seasons helped the Buckeyes compiled a 27-2 record and win the 1968 National Championship and two Big Ten Conference titles, in addition to playing in two Rose Bowls.
Dennard became the sixth Michigan State player to be named the best at his respective position by the Touchdown Club of Columbus, joining Brad Van Pelt (1972 Defensive Back of the Year), Carl Banks (1983 Linebacker of the Year), Lorenzo White (1985 Running Back of the Year), Tony Mandarich (1988 Offensive Lineman of the Year) and Charles Rogers (2002 Receiver of the Year). He also was named the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second year in a row (unanimous pick by the league’s coaches).
“Darqueze Dennard is a complete corner,” Michigan State head coach Mark Dantonio said. “He’s an extremely competitive and gifted athlete. Darqueze has great ball skills, out-standing tackling ability, remarkable change of direction and plays the deep very well. He really has been a cornerstone of our defense for the last three years.”
“I’m awfully proud of the way Darqueze Dennard has played not only this season but throughout his entire career,” Spartans assistant head coach/defensive coordinator Pat Narduzzi said. “He is coached by the best defensive backs coach in the country, in Harlon Barnett, and without a doubt, Darqueze has turned out to be the best defensive back in the country. The best way to describe him is fast, physical and smart. Plus, he has the ability to make big, game-changing plays.”
The Spartans’ rise to prominence on the defensive front coincided with Dennard’s elevation to the starting lineup during his sophomore campaign. Michigan State had ranked 60th nationally vs. the pass (220.08) and 43rd in total defense (353.77 ypg) during the Twiggs County High School recruit’s true freshman season that saw the cornerback limited to just six games and two starting assignments, due to knee injury issues.
In 2011, Dennard took over “field” cornerback duties, starting eleven games, as MSU finished 11th in the nation vs. the pass (176.93 ypg) and led the Big Ten Conference, in addition to ending up sixth in the FBS by yielding just 277.43 yards per game. In the two contests that Dennard sat out due to injuries, the Spartans surrendered the second- and third-highest yardage totals for the schedule (415 vs. Minnesota and 370 vs. North-western).
With Dennard in the lineup that year, Michigan State’s defense held the opposition to under 200 yards in three contests, including a low of 48 yards vs. Florida Atlantic. That season, he not only defended six passes, but also rerouted/jammed his pass coverage assignments away from 30-of-62 tosses targeted into his area. He recorded seven touchdown-saving tackles, set up a scoring drive after blocking a field goal and killed twenty more possessions by delivering the final tackle on those series.
The best was yet to come, as Dennard, a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection as a junior, did more than enough on the field to garner All-American consideration. He started all thirteen contests, pacing a squad that ranked ninth nationally in both pass defense (175.77 ypg) and scoring defense (16.31 ppg), in addition to again leading the conference while finishing fourth in the nation with an average of 274.38 yards per game in total defense.
Dennard established himself as perhaps the hardest-hitting defensive back to wear a Big Ten Conference team uniform since the days of Ohio State’s Jack Tatum (1967-70) and Michigan’s Heisman Trophy winner, Charles Woodson (1995-97). Evidence to back that claim was his dominance as a shutdown cornerback, as he allowed only 18-of-91 passes targeted into his territory (19.78%, the lowest completion percentage allowed by any starting cornerback in the FBS in 2012), as opponents managed averages of only 8.39 yards per completion and 1.66 yards per attempt.
Dennard recorded an incredible 33 third-down stops, adding two more on fourth-down snaps during his junior season. He delivered 22 of his 52 hits inside the red zone, posting four of his stops behind the line of scrimmage. He also produced nine touchdown-saving tackles, racing out of his assigned area to make those crucial stops after opponents had eluded other MSU defenders. The hard-hitting cornerback also caused his coverage assignments to drop five of the balls intended for them.
The 2013 All-American and All-Big Ten Conference first-team selection was also a finalist for the Nagurski Award (defensive player of the year). He collected 62 tackles and firmly entrenched himself as the best “shutdown” pass defender in the nation. Taking over “boundary” cornerback duties after starting at the “field” position the previous two years, Dennard’s keen field vision and explosive closing speed has seen him deliver twenty touchdown-saving tackles.
The Thorpe Award recipient often came out of his territory to make those plays when opponents managed to elude other Spartans defenders. He produced a total of 44 third-down stops (37 vs. the pass), five more on fourth-down snaps and registered 23 hits inside the red zone, including thirteen on goal-line stands.
How Dennard ended up in a Michigan State uniform was a complete “accident.” While competing as a defensive back and wide receiver at Twiggs County High School, the two-way performer was lightly recruited, drawing some interest from Oklahoma State, Wake Forest, Middle Tennessee State and Utah State, with MTSU the only institution to offer him a scholarship during his prep senior season.
Michigan State recruiter Dave Warner was trying to attend a game in Vienna, Georgia, where present Spartans wide receiver Keith Mumphrey was scheduled to play for Dooley County High. Somehow, Warner “zigged instead of zagged” and arrived in Dry Branch, Georgia, population 2,049. He saw a young cornerback playing for Twiggs County and made note. He later returned to see Mumphrey’s team take on Dennard’s during the 2009 schedule and came away impressed.
Warner was so impressed after intently evaluating the player shadowing Mumphery. The next day, Dennard received a phone call asking him to visit Michigan State. Soon after, MSU coach Mark Dantonio offered the Georgia native a scholarship. “God’s work,” the cornerback recalls.
Four years later, Dennard is the unquestioned leader of one of the elite defensive units in college football. Many scouts are predicting that he will be drafted much earlier than his older cousin, former Nebraska cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who was taken by the New England Patriots in the seventh round of the 2012 draft.
At the Big Ten Conference football media day function prior to the 2013 season kicking off, Dennard recalls his decision to become a Spartan and the “growing pains” he experienced earlier in his career. “I never dreamed I’d get a chance to play in the Big Ten.” Nor did the player, whose teammates used to call him “Country,” imagine he would be dressed in suit and tie and representing his school at the Big Ten’s premier publicity event.
“I was rough around the edges when I first arrived,” Dennard said. Michigan State middle linebacker Max Bullough agreed, calling him shy, quiet and often out of his element.
“But Darqueze has changed a lot,” said Bullough, another All-Big Ten pick. “He’s got an unbelievable amount better at football and socially, too. He’s more open. He’s able to handle the media. He’s an unbelievable athlete. He’ll never cause trouble. He’s never out at night or has an issue. He is there to work, do his job and win football games.”
One of Dennard’s chores recently has been to stay in touch with cousin Alfonzo. He has been picking Alfonzo’s brain for tips on preparing to play in the NFL. “I’ve talked to Alfonzo about it and with guys from Michigan State who made it,” the cornerback said. “Basically, they say to work hard and don’t think too far ahead. Those guys have told me I’ve got the talent to play at that level. Just play hard and don’t change nothing.”
Another place Dennard can go for NFL advice is to his position coach, Harlon Barnett, who was an All-American at Michigan State in 1989 and went on to a seven-year pro career with Cleveland, New England and Minnesota. “Not too many coaches were All-Americans,” Dennard said. “Coach B has been a great influence on me with all the values he has instilled.”
Barnett can thank MSU’s recruiter Dave Warner for getting Dennard to commit to becoming a Spartan when he signed his national letter of intent to attend Michigan State on January 28th, 2010. Prior to his arrival in Michigan, the Georgia native lettered in foot-ball, basketball and track at Twiggs County High School. The two-way performer for grid-iron head coach Dexter Copeland, Dennard received just a two-star prospect status from Rivals.com as a 170-pound senior.
Dennard lettered all four years in football, but he began to realize his emerging football skills during his junior season in 2008. He earned Atlanta Journal-Constitution and GSWA All-State honors as a wide receiver, leading the Middle Georgia Class A region in total receptions (61), receiving yards (923) and touchdown catches (17). That year, he hauled in a career-best 18 tosses for 255 yards vs. Wilkinson County and also featured seven grabs for 118 yards vs. Wilcox County.
As a senior in 2009, Dennard led the Cobras to an 11-2 record, capturing the Class 2A Region title, as Twiggs County scored 468 points and gave up just 119. The two-time All-State selection on offense, he was named to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution All-State team as a defensive back. The Georgia Sports Writers Association awarded him honorable mention All-State accolades at defensive back, in addition to receiving All-Middle Georgia recognition as a kick returner.
During his senior season, Dennard pulled down 40 passes for 502 yards and eleven touch-downs to guide his squad to the state quarter-finals. On defense, he returned two of his nine interceptions for touchdowns, adding 50 tackles. He also scored twice while averaging 27.2 yards as a punt returner, picking up Class A Super 11 Team honors from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia High School Football Daily.
At the conclusion of his Cobras’ career, Dennard played in the 2009 Georgia Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Game, where he scored on a 48-yard reception in the third quarter. In addition to his gridiron success, he lettered in basketball for coach Dwayne White. In track, he recorded a top time of 10.88 in the 100-meter dash at the 2010 Georgia High School Association 2010 Outdoor Championships. He would finish second in that event during the final heat, clocking at 10.933.
While most draft analysts have ranked Dennard as one of the top five cornerbacks eligible for the 2014 draft, The NFL Draft Report has provided the 32 league scouting departments with further evidence to back up their claim that the Spartan is not only the “most complete” defensive back in the collegiate game, but also rank him as one of the top ten overall best players in the game (see Comparison Charts listed after Dennard’s player statistics and performance charts).
Their research/statistical department cite the Michigan State senior’s all-around play since the beginning of the 2012 season as “proof positive” to back up their claim. During that span of twenty-six games, the versatile defender has had 211 passes targeted into his area, as opposing quarterbacks completed 35 of those tosses (16.59%) for 242 yards and just two touchdowns, averaging 6.91 yards per reception and 1.15 per pass attempt.
Dennard appeared in 44 games for Michigan State, starting his last 40 appearances – 26 at “field” cornerback and fourteen others at the “boundary” position…Posted 167 tackles (105 solos) that included a 2-yard sack, ten stops for losses totaling 22 yards and five quarterback pressures…Caused two fumbles and recovered another…Deflected twenty passes and intercepted ten others for 125 yards in returns (12.50 avg), including one touchdown…Made eight tackles for the kickoff coverage unit, including a pair of touchdown-saving stops…In 44 contests, Dennard has had 293 passes targeted into his territory, as the opponents completed 61 of those tries (20.81%) for 577 yards and three touchdowns, an average of 9.46 yards per reception and 1.97 yards per pass attempt…In pass coverage, he not only registered 30 defended passes (twenty break-ups and ten thefts), but also rerouted or jammed his main coverage assignment away from 156 other tosses (53.24%), as he was credited with twenty-three touchdown-saving tackles, six stops-for-loss and took down four receivers at the line of scrimmage for no gain, yielding 34 first downs, as he also recorded 94 third-down stops and five more on fourth-down snaps vs. the passing game…As a junior, Dennard allowed just 1.66 yards per pass attempt, leading the nation’s starting defensive backs by holding opponents to just a 19.78 pass completion percentage into his targeted area (18-of-91 attempts)…As a senior, he limited his coverage assignments to an average of just 0.881 yards per pass attempt (18 completions of 118 targeted throws for 104 yards), the lowest figure by a major college cornerback since Deion Sanders of Florida State held opponents to just 0.935 yards per attempt in 1988 (including bowl game)…Since 1968, the only other defensive back in college football to limit his opponents to under one yard per pass attempt in a season was Jim Marsalis of Tennessee State (0.969-yard average in 1968)…His 32 third-down stops vs. the pass also were tops among 2012 NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision starting performers, while his 37 third-down hits in 2013 also led the major college participants…Against the run, Dennard was credited with 71 tackles, delivering sixteen touchdown-saving tackles, eight stops-for-loss and ten more hits that brought down ball carriers for no gain, as he posted ten third-down tackles while limiting those runners to just 88 yards (1.29 ypc)… Among his 167 tackles, he produced 56 of those hits inside the red zone, including twenty on goal-line plays.
Dennard earned All-American first-team honors from The NFL Draft Report the Walter Camp Football Foundation, USA Today and Phil Steele’s College Football Preview, as he became the first cornerback at Michigan State to earn first-team national recognition since Harlon Barnett in 1989…He also added All-Big Ten Conference first-team accolades…The senior was the recipient of two of the most prestigious honors accorded a defensive back, when he earned Jim Thorpe Award and Jack Tatum Award honors…Dennard is the first Michigan State player to capture the Thorpe Award, which has been given to the nation’s best defensive back since 1986. The award was immediately accepted as one of the nation’s top collegiate sports honors. Winners are judged on their performance on the field, athletic ability and character…The Tatum Award is given annually to the outstanding defensive back in the Big Ten Conference and is named in honor of the late Jack Tatum, a three-year starter from 1968-70 and two-time All-American at Ohio State. Known for his tenacity and fierce style of play, Tatum was named National Defensive Player of the Year as a senior, as the mainstay of the Ohio State defense for three seasons helped the Buckeyes compiled a 28-2 record and win the 1968 National Championship and two Big Ten Conference titles, in addition to playing in three Rose Bowls…Dennard became the sixth Michigan State player to be named the best at his respective position by the Touch-down Club of Columbus, joining Brad Van Pelt (1972 Defensive Back of the Year), Carl Banks (1983 Linebacker of the Year), Lorenzo White (1985 Running Back of the Year), Tony Mandarich (1988 Offensive Lineman of the Year) and Charles Rogers (2002 Receiver of the Year)…Dennard also was named the Tatum-Woodson Big Ten Defensive Back of the Year and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the second year in a row (unanimous pick by the league’s coaches)…Regarded by The NFL Draft Report as the best defensive back prospect eligible for the 2014 NFL Draft and fifth overall by that scouting information service, Dennard became just the third player in college football since The NFL Draft Report began compiling in-depth statistics to limit his pass coverage assignments to less than one yards per pass attempt. Through thirteen starting assignments, there were 118 passes targeted into Dennard’s area. He allowed just eighteen receptions (15.25 pass completion percentage) for 104 yards, an average of 5.78 yards per pass completion and 0.881 yards per pass attempt. The only other defensive backs to limit opponents to under one yard per attempt were Jim Marsalis of Tennessee State, who held those receivers to just 0.969 yards per attempt in 1968. Marsalis was selected in the first round of the 1969 NFL Draft by the Kansas City Chiefs, earning league Defensive Rookie of the Year honors that season. He started for the Chiefs throughout the 1976 season before ending his career as a member of the New Orleans Saints in 1977…The other defensive back to hold receivers to under one yard per attempt was Deion Sanders of Florida State in 1988 (0.935 yard average), as the two-time NFC Defensive Player of the Year made his professional debut with the Atlanta Falcons in 1989 after they selected him in the first round of the draft. He played for Atlanta until 1993, spending time with San Francisco (1994), Dallas (1995-1999) and Washington (2000) before ending his NFL career with Baltimore (2004-2005)…Dennard started all fourteen games, seeing action at both the “boundary” and field” positions, as he was often assigned the task of taking on the opponent’s best receiver…The defensive leader recorded a career-high 62 tackles (33 solos) that included six stops (solos and assists) behind the line of scrimmage…He posted five quarterback pressures, two that caused interceptions, as he also caused two fumbles…His four interceptions for 38 yards in returns tied for third in the league ranks…Also deflected ten other tosses, registering a total of fourteen passes defended…The unquestioned leader of the Spartans unit that ranked among the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision leaders in seven different statistical categories, he helped the Spartans lead the nation in rushing defense (80.8 yards per game), total defense (248.2 ypg), and opponent third-down conversions (.277; 53-of-191), in addition to ranking among the Top Ten in passing efficiency defense (second with a 91.5 rating), scoring defense (fourth at 12.7 points per game), turnover margin (seventh at +1.1 per game) and passing defense (sixth at 167.4 ypg.)…Michigan State had been ranked first in the nation in total defense for thirteen consecutive weeks…
In pass coverage, Dennard either rerouted or jammed his coverage assignments away from a nation-best 67 of those 118 tosses (56.78%), in addition to his fourteen defended passes…He delivered 37 third-down stops and three more on fourth-down snaps, as he posted four stops-for-loss and twice stopped receivers at the line of scrimmage for no gain, in addition to registering thirteen touchdown-saving tackles vs. the aerial game…
Among the major college starting cornerbacks, Dennard’s average of limiting opposing ball carriers to just 1.47 yards per carry (thirty attempts for 44 yards) is the lowest figure, as he delivered seven third-down hits, two more on fourth-down plays and recorded five touchdown-saving tackles vs. the ground attack…The senior produced a total of 23 tackles inside the red zone, including thirteen on goal-line stands…The blue chip prospect also performed briefly on special teams, making a pair of stops, including one touchdown-saving tackle for the kickoff coverage unit…In a 26-13 victory over Western Michigan to start the season, the team captain matched his career-high with three pass deflections, adding a QB pressure and a pair of tackles…In a 26-14 defeat of Iowa, the score could have been much different, but the standout senior cornerback delivered a pair of touchdown-saving tackles and killed a pair of other possessions with interceptions. He also paced the defense with eight tackles on the way to earning Big Ten Conference Defensive Player of the Week honors…Dennard suffered a right shin contusion in the fourth quarter vs. Indiana, but refused to sit out the rest of the game, as he collected five tackles with a quarterback pressure and also deflected a pass…Dennard, had four tackles, caused a fumble and came up with a crucial fourth quarter interception at the Michigan State 2-yard line that helped the defense record their third consecutive game without allowing a touchdown, vs. Michigan…Dennard came up with a pass theft in a 30-6 victory over Northwestern that not only gave Michigan State eleven victories for the third time in their last four seasons, but also secured them a berth in the Big Ten title game. The senior cornerback also posted a season-high nine tackles (5 solos) that included one stop behind the line of scrimmage. Three of his hits prevented potential touchdowns…Thanks to Dennard matching his season-high nine tackles (7 solos) that included a QB pressure and a pass deflection, the Spartans (11-1, 8-0) finished a perfect Big Ten Conference regular season schedule for only the third time, topping Minnesota, 14-3.
Dennard was named All-American first-team by The NFL Draft Report after a spectacular junior campaign that saw the “field” cornerback also receive All-Big Ten Conference first-team honors from the league’s coaches, Phil Steele, ESPN.com and College Football News, adding second-team recognition from the Big Ten’s media…Recipient of the team’s Jim Adams Award (unsung hero – defense)…The junior started all thirteen games, despite playing most of the season with a September injury that would later be diagnosed as a sports hernia…Finished sixth on the team with 52 tackles (34 solos) that included 3.5 stops for losses of five yards…Tied for second on the squad with seven pass deflections, adding three interceptions for 49 yards in returns…The junior established his position as one of the best “shutdown” cornerbacks in college football, as opponents were only able to complete 18-of-91 passes targeted into his area (19.78%, the lowest pass completion percentage for any starting defensive back in the FBS) for 151 yards, no touchdowns and just ten first downs, as those receivers averaged 8.39 yards per catch and 1.66 yards per pass attempt…Dennard not only defended ten tosses, he rerouted or jammed his pass coverage assignments away from 49 other throws, registering 32 third-down stops and two more on fourth-down snaps, in addition to delivering three touchdown-saving tackles, one stop-for-loss and one other hit that leveled a receiver at the line of scrimmage for no gain vs. the aerial attack…Provided 20 of his hits vs. the running game, producing three stops-for-loss, one more that leveled a ball carrier for no gain, five touchdown-saving tackles and one third-down hit while limiting those rushers to just 30 yards (1.5 ypc) vs. the ground attack…Recorded 22 of his tackles inside the red zone, making six of those plays on goal-line stands…Posted two more hits for the kickoff coverage unit, including a touchdown-saving tackle vs. Minnesota…Did not allow any receiver to catch a pass in each of the Eastern Michigan and Minnesota games, as he also limited his opponent to only one reception in each of the Central Michigan, Ohio State, Indiana, Iowa, Wisconsin and Nebraska clashes…In the season opener, Dennard deflected a career-high three passes, in addition to making five tackles and causing an interception to guide the Spartans to a 17-13 victory over Boise State…Produced six solo tackles, including one behind the line of scrimmage vs. Notre Dame…Dennard almost had a pair of interceptions, but he could not secure either tosses, resulting in deflections instead, as he also made four tackles vs. Iowa…Picked off two passes and had what appeared to be an interception that he ran back for a touchdown, but that play was then negated by a MSU penalty. He also recorded four tackles in a hard-fought 28-24 loss to Nebraska…Registered seven tackles (5 solos) with a stop for a loss and a pass deflection vs. Northwestern…
Dennard took over “field” cornerback duties, starting eleven games…Injuries would sideline the All-Big Ten Conference honorable mention (by the league’s media) for the Minnesota (concussion) and Northwestern (ankle) clashes, but he still managed to record 42 tackles (30 solos), a stop for a 5-yard loss, three pass deflections and gained 38 yards (for a touchdown) on three interception returns…Also blocked a field goal vs. Wisconsin, as he paved the way for a squad that led the league and ranked fourth in the nation in total defense (274.38 ypg), helping the Spartan secondary that ranked ninth in the FBS in pass defense (175.77 ypg)…In the two games that Dennard was out of action, the defense gave up their second- and third-highest yardage totals for the season (415 vs. Minnesota; 370 vs. Northwestern)…Had 62 passes targeted into his area, as the opposition caught 21 of those tries (33.87%) for 298 yards, one touchdown and sixteen first downs, as he posted eighteen third-down stops, three touchdown-saving tackles and rerouted/jammed his coverage assignments away from 30 of those throws…Also excelled vs. the ground game, as he made fifteen tackles vs. ball carriers, limiting them to 17 yards (1.13 ypc) while making two third-down hits and four touchdown-saving tackles…Delivered ten of his stops inside the red zone and made four tackles for the special team coverage units (three vs. kickoffs; one vs. punt)…The sophomore was named to the Yahoo Sports All-Bowl Team for his performance vs. Georgia in the Outback Bowl.
As a true freshman, Dennard appeared in six games, lining up behind Johnny Adams at “field” cornerback for the Notre Dame, Northern Colorado, Wisconsin and Michigan contests before taking over starting duties at “Boundary” cornerback vs. Illinois and Northwestern, but a knee injury would sideline him for the Spartans’ final five clashes…
Finished with eleven tackles (8 solos) that included a 2-yard sack, two stops for losses of four yards, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery…Two of his stops came as a member of the kickoff coverage unit…The opposition completed 4-of-13 passes targeted into his area, good for 24 yards, as he delivered a pair of touchdown-saving tackles, along with five third-down stops, along with rerouting/jamming his coverage assignments away from five of those throws…Posted one of his two tackles behind the line of scrimmage vs. the ground game, adding one touchdown-saving hit.
2010 Season…Dennard sat out the team’s final five games vs. Iowa (10/30), Minnesota (11/06), Purdue (11/20), Penn State (11/27) and Alabama (1/01/11) due to a knee ligament sprain.
2011 Season…Dennard did not play vs. Minnesota (11/05) due to a concussion and later suffered an ankle sprain vs. Iowa (11/12) that would prevent him from taking the field two weeks later vs. Northwestern (11/26) after first trying to play in the Indiana (11/19) clash.
2012 Season…Suffered an injury early in the schedule (September), but played the entire schedule. The injury was later diagnosed as a sports hernia and the coaches decided that they would not let him participate in 2013 spring drills, in order for him to fully recover.
During those drills, Dennard was forced to stand and watch on the sidelines. “It’s been very hard to watch,” the cornerback said during April camp. “Being a competitor, I want to go out there and play.” The fact that the sports hernia actually occurred last September, by Dennard’s estimation, serves as evidence of his competitive nature. “I thought it was just a pulled groin, and that was like September,” said Dennard, who played through the injury. Sitting out the spring gave Dennard an opportunity to see the game differently. “I think there have been some mental repetitions,” the team captain stated. “I’m trying to be a student of the game. I’ve been watching more film and finding the little things I can work on in my game. This opportunity has also given me a chance to talk to all of my team-mates, and get to know them better and become a leader. I don’t think it adds pressure — pressure comes when you aren’t prepared. I feel like I always have a target on my back. I keep a chip on my shoulder. I’m going to stay humble and work hard.”
2013 Season…Sat out spring camp as a precaution, as the coaching staff wanted to allow Dennard to fully heal from a sports hernia that he played with after first suffering the injury early during the 2012 September schedule…Left the field briefly after a helmet-to-helmet collision with MSU safety Isaiah Lewis vs. Iowa (10/05), but returned to action one play later…Suffered a right shin contusion when a teammate fell on his leg during the fourth quarter of the Indiana clash (10/12), but continued to play.
4.51 in the 40-yard dash…1.63 10-yard dash…2.65 20-yard dash…4.41 20-yard shuttle…
10.81 60-yard shuttle…7.07 three-cone drill…36-inch vertical jump…11’-2” broad jump… Bench pressed 225 pounds 15 times…30 ¼-inch arm length…9-inch hands…73 ½-inch wingspan.
Dennard attended Twiggs County (Jeffersonville, Ga.) High School, lettering in football, basketball and track…The two-way performer as a defensive back and wide receiver for gridiron head coach Dexter Copeland, Dennard received just a two-star prospect status from Rivals.com as a 170-pound senior…Lettered all four years in football…First began to receive postseason accolades during his junior season in 2008, as he earned Atlanta Journal-Constitution and GSWA All-State honors as a wide receiver, leading the Middle Georgia Class A region in total receptions (61), receiving yards (923) and touchdown catches (17). That year, he hauled in a career-best 18 tosses for 255 yards vs. Wilkinson County and also featured seven grabs for 118 yards vs. Wilcox County…As a senior in 2009, Dennard led the Cobras to an 11-2 record, capturing the Class 2A Region title, as Twiggs County scored 468 points and gave up just 119. The two-time All-State selection on offense, he was also named to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution All-State team as a defensive back. The Georgia Sports Writers Association awarded him honorable mention All-State accolades at defensive back, along with receiving All-Middle Georgia recognition as a kick returner…During his senior season, Dennard pulled down 40 passes for 502 yards and eleven touchdowns to guide his squad to the state quarter-finals. On defense, he returned two of his nine interceptions for touchdowns, adding 50 tackles. He also scored twice while averaging 27.2 yards as a punt returner, picking up Class A Super 11 Team honors from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Georgia High School Football Daily…At the conclusion of his Cobras’ career, Dennard played in the 2009 Georgia Athletic Coaches Association North-South All-Star Game, where he scored on a 48-yard reception in the third quarter…Lettered in basketball for coach Dwayne White…In track, he recorded a top time of 10.88 in the 100-meter dash at the 2010 Georgia High School Association 2010 Outdoor Championships. He would finish second in that event during the final heat, clocking at 10.933.
Communications major…Son of Lisa Curry…Born 8/10/91…Resides in Dry Branch, Georgia.