William Jackson gets his chance early this season.
History may repeat itself in the wake of cornerback Adam Jones' one-game suspension handed down by the NFL Friday.
The last Bengals cornerback to make his first start in his first NFL game came nine years ago in the 2007 opener at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens when first-rounder Leon Hall got the nod. With Baltimore back here to open the season Sept. 10, William Jackson is going to duel with Darqueze Dennard among others in his bid to repeat Hall's feat.
Jones, 33, who started all 16 games last season and is in the middle of a three-year deal worth about $24 million, can participate when training camp opens July 28. He'll miss the opener for the first time since 2011, when he was coming back from a herniated neck disc and played just eight games. Since then he's missed only two with a foot sprain in 2015.
"The Bengals anticipated this result and are glad to finally put the matter behind us," the club said in a statement. "Our focus is on getting ready for the upcoming season. Adam will participate in training camp and we are counting on him to help our team when he returns from suspension."
But the Bengals can turn to pair of first-rounders to fill a void against a quarterback they've controlled down through the years, particularly in the three seasons of defensive coordinator Paul Guenther. In that stretch the Bengals are 4-1 against Joe Flacco while holding him far below his career passer rating of 84.5 with 73, as well as limiting him to nearly a yard fewer than his career yards per attempt of 6.9 with 6.1 while allowing four touchdowns and intercepting him six times.
Guenther looks to the stable and likes what he sees. There are reasons Jackson and Dennard were that high on the draft board.
"We've got plenty of guys there ready to play," Guenther said. "(Jackson) is the tall kind of corner, a real quick twitch guy who does a good job coming out of his break for a taller guy. Quez is a tough, hard-nosed guy who's aggressive. He just has to stay healthy. He's been on the cusp a couple of times but there have been injuries here and there."
Almost as soon as Dennard assumed control of the slot in 2015, he suffered a season-ending shoulder injury and when he nicked his ankle in the last training camp he lost even more time. Last season he traded off the slot with Josh Shaw and had a career-high 329 snaps.
Jackson, the Bengals' 2016 first-round pick, missed all of his rookie year with shoulder surgery when he was injured in the first few days of camp. He was back healthy for the spring camps and figures to do battle prominently with Dennard, the 2014 first-rounder, to see who starts opposite Dre Kirkpatrick, a 2012 first-rounder, in the opener. Secondary coach Kevin Coyle prepped Hall for that first start (a 27-20 win over quarterback Steve McNair and wide receiver Derrick Mason) and he's got a much deeper crew then when cornerback Johnathan Joseph wasn't full go that night and Hall had to go. During the spring drills Coyle came away impressed with not only Jackson and Dennard, but Shaw and Bene Benwikere, a newcomer who is not so new. He's got 14 NFL starts, all with Carolina, and he got a boatload of experience playing for a Super Bowl club.
"We've got a good core of guys. It's a quality group and training camp is going to be an interesting competition," Coyle said. "We've got guys who can play and have played and they have to step up in the pre-season games. Willie has everybody excited about his talent and athleticism. I really think it's a case where everybody is going to contribute at some point in the different packages." Jackson and Dennard get the chance after an incident that occurred a day after the regular-season ended with a win over those Ravens at PBS. That's when, according to multiple published reports, Jones was involved in a profanity-laced incident at a downtown Cincinnati hotel that resulted in him pleading guilty to obstructing official business, a second-degree misdemeanor. Assault and disorderly conduct charges were dismissed after he allegedly poked a security guard in the eye and resisted a police officer's attempt to arrest him.
Jones met with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in New York last week and, according to profootballtalk.com, the league's letter to Jones upbraided him for his actions before and after the arrest.
"Extensive video documentation of the tone, tenor and nature of your interactions with law enforcement at the site of your arrest, during transportation to the jail, and during the booking process," the letter said. "As you acknowledged, your post-arrest words and actions reflected poorly on you and your family, the Cincinnati Bengals football club, and the NFL. While it is our understanding that appropriate apologies have been publicly extended, they do not completely negate your behavior and admission of culpability for the underlying conduct."
Jones has three days to appeal and his agent, Peter Schaffer, said Friday afternoon they are reviewing the letter.
"We are exploring all options," Schaffer said. "We are keeping in mind what's best for Adam, the Bengals, and the NFL."
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