For Bengals Jackson, ‘it’s time to get back to having fun'

Bengals’ wide receiver John Ross catches a pass defended by cornerback William Jackson during organized team activities Tuesday, May 22 at the practice facility near Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF
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Bengals’ wide receiver John Ross catches a pass defended by cornerback William Jackson during organized team activities Tuesday, May 22 at the practice facility near Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Team looking for consistency from fifth-year defensive back

William Jackson’s mom pointed out toward the end of the 2018 season that it didn’t look like the Cincinnati Bengals cornerback was having fun anymore.

The 2016 first-round draft pick showed star potential in 2017 after he missed his rookie season, but his play slipped significantly over the last two seasons.

Jackson tried taking to heart what his mom said but while adjusting to his fourth defensive coordinator in four years, it just wasn’t clicking for him yet last season. Now he’s feeling more comfortable in the second season with Lou Anarumo and ready to turn the corner.

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“The first year I was just going out there and playing,” Jackson said in a video conference with reporters earlier this week. “I was treating it like a regular game. But as I went on, I started treating it like a job and getting more serious and I wasn’t having fun with the game anymore. So, I just got to get back to having fun and letting it fly. And that’s a downfall on me for taking it so seriously.”

Jackson said his mom has attended every game he’s played with the Bengals, and as the saying goes, “Mama knows best.”

“She’s like, … ‘This year, it’s time to get back to having fun. Mistakes are gonna happen. Just try to minimize the mistakes and have fun,’” Jackson recalled.

It’s now or maybe never for Jackson, at least in Cincinnati. The Bengals picked up his fifth-year option last April, bumping up his salary from $1.7 million to $9.6 million this year, and he will be trying to earn a new contract.

Jackson started 14 of the 15 games he played last year but ended the season on the injured reserve list with a shoulder injury he had surgically repaired in January. He finished with a mere three passes defended and recorded just one interception, earning the second-lowest ProFootballFocus.com grade among six cornerbacks on the team who played 100 snaps or more in 2019.

The former University of Houston player had 13 passes defensed in 2018 and 14 in 2017. Jackson has made one interception since Week 3 of the 2017 season when he picked off Aaron Rodgers and took it back 75 yards for a touchdown.

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“I go out there with a chip on my shoulder knowing it’s my last year, but I don’t feel any pressure,” Jackson said. “I’m just out here trying to have fun and embrace my teammates and that’s the only thing I worry about.”

With Dre Kirkpatrick gone and now Trae Waynes expected to miss significant time because of a pectoral injury, the Bengals will be looking for more leadership from Jackson as well.

Anarumo said more importantly, he wants consistency out of Jackson.

“That’s all any of us want, especially in the back end,” Anarumo said. “If you’re a consistent player, you’ll play in this league a long time. He’s got great God-given ability. He has to do it on every snap. And it’s hard. It’s a tough position that he plays. But for him, it’s consistency, both in the run game where he’s asked to tackle but certainly paramount in the pass game where he’s asked to cover and knock balls down and pick them off. Consistency would be the number one thing with him.”

That’s been what has been lacking since 2017, but Jackson said he’s struggled with the constant changes to the defense. In 2018, the Bengals replaced defensive coordinator Paul Guenther with Teryl Austin, only to fire Austin midway through the year as Marvin Lewis assumed that role on top of head coaching duties.

Anarumo joined Zac Taylor’s staff last February, and this is the first time Jackson has had the same coordinator in back-to-back seasons.

“A lot of people don’t understand that a lot of corners have been in the same system their whole career,” Jackson said. “Every year I’ve had to learn a new system and terminology. So, that’s the reason I’ve been playing and wasn’t getting as much picks as I should because everything was new to me every year. So, this is the first year that I’ve had the same coach two years in a row. It should be a great one. … I’m familiar with this defense and I’m comfortable in it and it’s time to go make plays.”

The 27-year-old corner said he was starting to feel more comfortable with Anarumo’s defense late last year but then his shoulder injury occurred. He rehabbed over the winter and said he starting feeling 100 percent about two months ago.

Now he’s healthy, and preparing to be ready to go when the Bengals open Sept. 13.

“It was a different approach (this offseason), because coming off the shoulder injury it was just strengthening that,” Jackson said. “I had some great trainers out there in Houston and trying to do the right things that translate to football and I feel it’s going to pay off.”