FOXBORO -- Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard played just 21 snaps against the Broncos and did not see any action against Peyton Manning and his talented receiving corps after halftime.
He reportedly underwent a medical procedure on his knee last week after missing New England's loss to the Panthers on Monday night in Week 11. He was, however, a limited participant in practice leading up to the Denver game and was ready and in uniform at kickoff.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick hinted at Dennard's desire to be on the field in his press conference on Wednesday morning.
"He's a very competitive guy, and no matter the situation he wants to be out there and battle it out with the receivers," Belichick said. "As does Aqib [Talib] and Kyle [Arrington]. It's good to have guys like that. They want the challenge. They want to go out there and be challenged in critical situations and respond and make the play. [Dennard]'s got a lot of confidence. Key part of the secondary. I'm glad we have him."
Dennard's level of play this season has been perhaps overshadowed in the eyes of some by what Talib has done on the other side of the field. While Talib has rightly been praised for shutting down talented receivers such as Vincent Jackson, Roddy White and Jimmy Graham, Dennard has been rock solid when opposing quarterbacks are left to choose the lesser of two evils.
The sturdy 5-foot-10, 200-pound corner has been formidable in press coverage -- which the Patriots have asked their corners to do a great deal this season -- and when thrown upon he has the ability to go up and make a play on the ball while in mid-air. He has come up with one interception and seven passes defensed in 10 games.
Belichick has noticed the difference in Dennard's play since last season, when as a rookie he missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury and didn't make his debut until Week 5.
"I think Zo's developed quite a bit," Belichick said. "A big gap for him was the amount of time he missed in training camp last season so he started playing mid-season without kind of the build up that you'd like a player to have. This year that hasn't been the case at all. He's been out there a lot in training camp and in the early season, and so he's had a much more consistent start to the season to develop his techniques and his timing and his reaction and recovery. He's a physical player. Plays the ball well."
Though Dennard's knee injury seemed to keep him out of the Broncos game, he was present at Patriots practice on Wednesday, stretching, warming up, and participating in drills with his teammates. In one drill with defensive backs, he back-pedaled and changed direction to break on a ball without apparent limitation.
Dennard has two hearings coming up in early December. One is scheduled for Dec. 6 in Nebraska in relation to his July arrest on the suspicion of drunk driving, after which Dennard admitted to violating his probation. The other will come one day before to see if Dennard will receive jail time for violating his probation. He previously received 30 days in jail to be served in March 2014.