Alfonzo Dennard couldn’t play in the first five games of his career with the Patriots, a wonky hamstring sending him to the sidelines.
But a week ago against Denver, he saw his first game action, and was credited with a tackle and a pass breakup.
In the days since, Dennard has been hearing from his teammates, though not for his 31-snap debut performance.
“All week I pinched myself, and they’re still giving me stuff about it,” Dennard said. “But I still can’t believe I’m in the NFL.
“It’s something I’ve always dreamed about, and I’m on the same level as these guys. I see Tom Brady and I think highly of him, and I just feel great about being at this level and being able to compete.”
Dennard was the sixth of New England’s seven draft picks this year, taken 224th overall out of Nebraska, where he was the Big Ten’s Defensive Back of the Year last fall and a first-team all-conference pick. Listed at 5 feet 10 inches, 200 pounds, he is stockier than most cornerbacks.
Just days before the draft, Dennard, who had been considered a mid-round pick, was arrested for third-degree assault on a police officer in Lincoln, Neb., and saw his stock slip. He became the classic low-risk/potentially high-reward pick for the Patriots.
Once he was healthy, Bill Belichick gave the rookie his first shot.
“He’s had some opportunities in practice, on the practice squad, that led to some opportunities on defense running our stuff,” Belichick said. “It looked like he showed that he was prepared, that he knew what to do and that he was competitive doing it. We sprinkled him in a little bit there in the game and he was able to be competitive.”
Dennard acknowledged that it took him a minute to settle down when he finally did get on the field. He wasn’t focused on doing his job and was more concerned with not messing up. After the first series, he realized that he could hang with the players he was facing; he just had to focus.
Against the Seahawks Sunday, he could get another chance.
“The more I get out there, the more comfortable I get,” Dennard said. “Honestly, I’m not sure how things are going to go this week in Seattle. I’m just going to go out there and get better in my techniques and just try to learn the playbook as much as I can.
“You’ve got to do your job, because if you don’t do your job, then somebody else is going to do it.”
The Patriots downgraded two players from questionable to out — receiver Julian Edelman and linebacker Dont’a Hightower. Edelman hurt his hand against the Ravens, and will miss his second straight game. So will Hightower, who is suffering from a hamstring injury . . . Tight end Aaron Hernandez, who has been out since suffering a severe ankle sprain in Week 2 against the Cardinals, made the trip to Seattle and is expected to play. Hernandez’s role is to be determined based on how he feels, but it’s likely to be limited.
Going for three
Sunday marks the 16th meeting between the Patriots and Seahawks over the last 35 years. The Patriots hold an 8-7 edge, having won the last two meetings: on Dec. 7, 2008, in Seattle, and Oct. 17, 2004, at Gillette Stadium. Prior to that, the Patriots had lost five straight to the Seahawks . . . The Patriots are 5-4 in West Coast games under Belichick. Four of those games came in 2008, when they faced Seattle, San Diego, San Francisco, and Oakland, going 3-1.