Dennard happy to last with Patriots

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Dennard happy to last with Patriots

FOXBORO -- For Alfonzo Dennard, surviving the NFL's cutdown dates inspired a sigh.

"It feels good just to be on a team, you know?"

He barely ducked into the NFL draft to begin with.

Dennard was arrested April 21, 2012 on suspicion of assaulting a police officer. The 22-year old got in a fight outside a Lincoln, Nebraska bar at 2 a.m. that Saturday. When an officer tried to intervene, Dennard allegedly punched him in the head.

Dennard's future was quickly eclipsed by doubt.

The All-Big Ten corner who received defensive back of the year honors became the Nebraska DB who got arrested.

"Character concerns," that bright red flag, was quickly hoisted in scouting reports.

Projected earlier by some as a second-round pick, Dennard's stock plummeted.

"My agent was like, 'No matter where you go, it's still going to be exciting.' But I was like, 'No, man, I don't think so.'

"I wanted to go higher."

At first, he struggled to cope. How did everything get so out of control? Who would take a risk on the alleged Kid Who Hit a Cop?

Dennard needed bracing. Luckily, he got it.

"I have a lot of people who supported me," he said. "My family -- that's the most important. Without my family I don't think I could have gone through the whole situation. I've never been in a situation like that before so it was kind of hard for me, but my family stuck by my side."

The clan had plenty of loving hands to extend; Dennard has 10 brothers (including a twin, Lorenzo) and three sisters.

He smiled when illustrating the breadth of his family tree, to see his listener absorb the strength of their numbers. And he was grateful to consider it himself, as he does every day.

"That's why I say my family, they're everything," he said.

New England selected Dennard in the seventh round with pick No. 224 -- a triple-digit measurement of how far he had fallen.

"It just humbled me," he said. "It humbled me a lot because I felt like I was supposed to be at the top. But since I went in the seventh round I have to work harder. I have to prove the doubters wrong."

He started with the legal fallout.

There were court dates to make, pleas to enter. Unlike the other rookies, there was no gushing post-draft conference call, no celebratory meet-and-greet. During what was supposed to be the most exciting time in a young football player's life, he was largely removed from the public eye.

In the meantime, people from Dennard's past came out in the media as character witnesses.

"For four years, I didn't have a problem with that young man in any way," Cornhuskers coach Bo Pellini told ESPN Boston. "He did things exactly how we asked him to do them here, and the way we handle our kids, we don't make it easy on the kids in our program. We hold them to high standards every single day."

The court proceedings were eventually put on hold. Dennard's lawyer, Terry Dougherty, was granted a continuance until December.

Great, right? Time to focus on football.

If only.

Dennard missed 16 practice sessions after suffering a hamstring injury on Day 2 of training camp. He didn't return to action until the Patriots traveled to Tampa for preseason Game 3. One forced fumble in the preseason finale against the Giants was the highlight in a sample size too small to judge.

But the final word, since April, has come from the Patriots. The coaching staff has thus far felt him worth keeping among the select 53. And his teammates support the decision wholeheartedly.

"I think a great thing, when looking at 'Zo, is how hard he's worked," said one of 2011's captains, Devin McCourty. "He's a guy who was limited a little bit throughout training camp with injuries, but he's worked hard just paying attention when watching film and working hard in the weight room to get back on the field. I think it was exciting to watch him get back into practice and into the game and kind of just pick up where everyone else is. Whenever you see a rookie able to do that, I think it's encouraging."

Just what Dennard needs.

"I'm ready to just get everything over with and just have my mind on football," he said. "It's kind of hard right now, I have my mind on both things, I'm just trying to stick on football."

Dennard's rough-hewn road to the NFL's Week 1 has given him a unique perspective. It may not be one he wanted, but it's what he got.

Cutdown day? A hurdle cleared. A leap in the right direction.

"It's pretty rough, but it kind of woke me up, though," Dennard said. "You never know where you'll be the next day, so you just have to, don't get complacent. Just have fun for the day and don't worry about what's going to happen tomorrow. Stay focused on what's going to happen today."

A lesson learned the hardest way.

Andrew Benintendi leads Red Sox past Nationals in 8-1 win

Andrew Benintendi leads Red Sox past Nationals in 8-1 win

Andrew Benintendi excelled in his early-game action against Nationals starter Joe Ross in the Red Sox' 8-1 win. Benintendi finished the contest 2 of 2 with a triple and two RBIs. Dustin Pedroia helped Benintendi at the top of the lineup. Pedroia was 2 of 2 with a double and two RBIs.

Kyle Kendrick got the Red Sox pitching staff off to a strong start in his four-inning appearance. The 32-year-old righty had six strikeouts and allowed five hits with one earned run. Kendricks performance should ease some anxiety in Boston, as Drew Pomeranz headed to the disabled list.

Reliever Ben Taylor, 24, pitched the final two innings for the Sox, and had four strikouts with three hits allowed and no runs.

Chris Sale will pitch Friday for the Red Sox at 4:05 a.m against the Nationals.

Hernandez's fiancee: I learned to keep my mouth shut and not ask questions

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Hernandez's fiancee: I learned to keep my mouth shut and not ask questions

BOSTON -- Former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez's fiancee testified in his double-murder trial Thursday that she learned to keep her mouth shut and "not to ask any questions" in certain situations.

Shayanna Jenkins-Hernandez testified against Hernandez under a grant of immunity from prosecutors. She and Hernandez have a 4-year-old daughter. She said she took Hernandez's last name in 2015.

Hernandez is accused of fatally shooting two men in Boston in July 2012 after an encounter at a Boston nightclub. He is also charged with witness intimidation in the shooting of Alexander Bradley, allegedly to silence him about the killings.

Jenkins-Hernandez repeatedly said she could not recall details about conversations with Hernandez after the 2012 killings and after Bradley's shooting in 2013.

She said she didn't ask Hernandez for details about Bradley's shooting, even though Hernandez and Bradley were close friends.

"[Bradley] was not my friend . . . Yes, it's a sad situation [but] why should I press about something like that?" she said.

Jenkins-Hernandez also said she did not recall getting a call from Hernandez at 2:37 a.m. on July 16, 2012, minutes after prosecutors say Hernandez shot Daniel de Abreu and Safiro Furtado as they sat in a car at a stop light in Boston. Prosecutors said phone records show a 17-second call from Hernandez to her at that time.

Hernandez has denied shooting the men. His lawyer told the jury during opening statements that Bradley shot the men over a drug deal.

Bradley testified he saw Hernandez shoot the men. He also said Hernandez shot him in the face months later after he made a remark about the Boston shootings.

Hernandez is already serving a life sentence after being convicted in the 2013 killing of a man who was dating the sister of Jenkins-Hernandez.