Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones missed his second consecutive practice Thursday due to the concussion he suffered Sunday in the 24-20 loss at Tennessee, which means it’s unlikely he will play Sunday at Denver.
That could create an opportunity for William Jackson to make his second NFL start if he is able to recover from the toe injury that forced him out of the Titans game in the third quarter.
Jackson, who missed practice Wednesday but returned Thursday, has been one of the bright spots in an otherwise disappointing season for the Bengals, improving each week and showing why the team invested a first-round pick in him in 2016.
“I just think he’s more confident and more knowledgeable of the details of the system, all the little ins and outs and the different things we do,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. “He’s basically a rookie. We’ve played seven rookies and all of them, they’re not making major errors. And him in particular, that’s a hard spot in our defense to play. Even a lot of times when we’re in zone defense, it’s man to man for the corners.”
Despite splitting time with Jones and playing 50 percent of the snaps this season, Jackson leads the Bengals in passes defended with seven, is tied for the team lead with one interception — which he returned 75 yards for a touchdown against Green Bay — and he added his first career sack Sunday against the Titans.
He’s been among the highest-ranked cornerbacks by Pro Football Focus after several games.
“I’m not satisfied with how I’ve played,” Jackson said after practice Thursday. “I always feel like I could do better. But it feels so good when you get praise from outside the organization and a lot of people are taking notice of what you’re doing.”
Those inside the organization are taking notice as well.
“I trained with Will all offseason, so I’ve seen the steps he’s made coming out here making plays each and every week,” wide receiver Brandon LaFell said. “I knew he was going to be good. At first I was like, he’s just a fast guy. But the work he put in this offseason, the technique, the footwork, it’s just showing up week to week on the field.”
Jackson missed his entire rookie season after suffering a pectoral injury early in training camp. And he’s spent half the snaps this year watching from the sideline as the Bengals rotate him with Jones.
One of Jackson’s better games came in Week 7 at Pittsburgh, when Jones was out with a back injury. Jackson played a career-high 59 snaps and had two impress pass breakups, one of which was against Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Jackson leads the team with seven penalties, but he didn’t have any in the game in which he saw the most action, and he said that’s not a coincidence.
“That game really gave me confidence and let me get comfortable with knowing who I’m going against, judging his speed and all that,” he said. “It feels weird just getting thrown out there and see what’s going on rather than starting the game off and getting a feel for the receiver you’re going against.”
Even though Jackson and Jones have returned to their platoon since Pittsburgh, Jackson has done a better job avoiding flags. His first six game in Weeks 1-5, and he wasn’t penalized again until Week 10 when he was called for defensive holding against the Titans when he came in mid-series after Jones suffered the concussion.
It was one of six penalties the Bengals had in the game that resulted in Tennessee first downs, but it also was one Guenther defended.
“We had a free runner on a blitz; the ball shouldn’t have even come out,” he said. “If we just run through the quarterback, the ball probably doesn’t ever get thrown. The guy’s just throwing the ball in his general area.”
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Jackson atoned for the mistake on the next snap with his first sack.
“He’s done a great job,” Guenther said. “I can’t say enough about him.”