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CB Darqueze Dennard learned 49ers defensive playbook in one day last season

Jul 30, 2022 at 11:26 AM--

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The 49ers weren't sure exactly what they were going to get when they signed cornerback Darqueze Dennard late last season during a period of absence among the team's defensive backs, but he was able to deliver beyond their expectations, perhaps putting him in a position for a significant role on this year's squad.

The 49ers added Dennard to their practice squad on January 4 of 2022 while multiple cornerbacks were dealing with illness and injury. They later elevated him to the active roster for the team's regular season finale, a 27-24 road overtime win over the Rams that helped push the 49ers into the playoffs. Dennard played 21 defensive snaps in that game and raised some eyebrows among the team with his performance -- both during the game and in practices beforehand.

That's because Dennard apparently stepped right in at 49ers practice having already known the playbook despite his brief time with the team. Safety Talanoa Hufanga, who was a rookie at the time, was wowed at how fast Dennard grasped the defense and took it as a sign of what he can expect from players at the highest level.

"I think when he came in for the practices, I still remember him coming in and I think he practiced like twice that week," Hufanga said after 49ers practice on Friday. "I can't (remember) the specifics. But I remember he came in and learned the defense overnight. It was kind of crazy. I was like, 'How can you do this so quick and just go out on the field?' I was like, 'That's what the NFL is all about.' It's a league that is the highest of the highest. So watching him come in and do his job like that it was pretty incredible, and it didn't go unnoticed in our room. We definitely praised him for that, for sure."

49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan was similarly impressed with Dennard after that week. Dennard's level of preparation let Shanahan know he was a player the team could rely on in the future.

"That was extremely impressive," Shanahan said before practice on Saturday. "I remember that whole week we had a bunch of guys out, guys were getting sick and stuff and some guys hurt. I remember that Sunday morning we were hoping to get four guys back that we thought we would. We knew it was going to be 50/50 but we were thinking positively. We found out we didn't get any of those four, so we had to bring guys in and play that hadn't played before. We didn't know. We gave Dennard as many reps as we could, but you just hope he's on it and planning on it and working away from us as much as he can. He got out there for 18 reps. They all say they do, but you really know when you see them out there. He showed us he's a guy we can count on, a guy we can trust."

Dennard entered the league as a first-round pick of the Cincinnati Bengals in 2014 but bounced around the league after his time with the Bengals came to an end in 2019. He went on to spend time with the Falcons, Giants, Cardinals, and Colts before landing with the 49ers in 2022.

Now, at age 30, Dennard might have found himself a home with the 49ers for at least the foreseeable future. Dennard re-signed with the 49ers in March and is now battling for the open spot at nickel corner on the 49ers roster. The competition remains open right now, but Dennard could prove to be the man to beat as training camp and the preseason proceed. Whether or not he wins the job remains to be seen, but Dennard already has the trust and respect of his teammates after what he did late last season.

"He's a guy that can do anything," Hufanga said. "He's a silent person in the meetings. He's a guy that goes out there and works. It's kind of funny because he just shows up and he just does his job. You don't really have to ask too much of him. He just goes out there and does what he needs to do. So for us, it's really good to have a nickel that can communicate. But when he just knows what he's doing, you don't even have to worry about putting him in the right spot."

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