Young DTs Hardison, Williams hoping for happier ending in 2016

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Bengals defensive tackle getting long look

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Next Game

Cincinnati Bengals vs. Jacksonville Jaguars

When: 8 p.m. Sunday

Where: Everbank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.

TV: Ch. 2, 5

Radio: 700-AM, 1530-AM, 102.7-FM

Marcus Hardison and DeShawn Williams have been through this before. They’re hoping what comes next is a little less familiar.

As rookies in 2015 — Hardison a fourth-round pick from Arizona State, Williams an undrafted free agent from Clemson — both saw extensive action in the preseason and combined for three sacks and 11 tackles.

But as members of a defensive line that was both talented and deep, not to mention healthy, all that followed was frustration. The 6-foot-3, 310-pound Hardison made the 53-man roster but suffered a knee injury during the first practice of the regular season and was inactive for all 16 regular-season games.

Williams, an undersized underdog at 6-1 and 295 pounds, spent the year on the practice squad.

“I prepared like I was going to play every week, but it just didn’t happen or turn out that way,” Hardison said. “I felt like everybody was getting hurt last year but D-linemen.”

Both players are getting long looks again this preseason, with Hardison leading all defensive players with 80 snaps while Williams has logged 62.

“We’ve got to find out about the guys so that when we make the decisions, we’re making good ones,” defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said.

With Brandon Thompson still recovering from an ACL injury suffered in the regular-season finale and rookie fourth-round pick Andrew Billings out with a knee injury that could cost him the entire season, the door is open for both players to find a spot on the 53-man roster.

“They’re both doing well, picking up right where they left off last year,” Guenther said. “In the next couple games we’re going to have to make some decisions about who’s staying and who’s going. There will be two big opportunities for them.”

That’s what Williams was counting on when he turned down offers from other teams after being part of the final cut last year.

“I knew where I wanted to be, and that was here,” Williams said. “The coaching staff really wanted me, so there wasn’t any need to up and leave at the first chance I got. Some people would have got greedy and took the money, but that wasn’t for me.

“It might sound dumb for me to say it, but I’m not playing for the money,” Williams continued. “I’m playing to show 31 teams and everyone else that said I couldn’t do it when I came out of the draft, saying that my height was an issue or he doesn’t have this or that. I’m just trying to prove people wrong and prove myself right.”

With the starters expected to play much more Sunday in Jacksonville than they have in the first two games, Hardison and Williams likely won’t get as many snaps. But they know each one is another chance to prove they belong.

“I feel great about this season,” Hardison said. “I know what I’m getting into this year. I’ve got a year under my belt where I learned a lot behind a veteran D-line, a great group of guys. I just have to trust the process. There’s some opportunity there.”

Added Williams, “I know where I’m at. There’s no comfort level. If I get comfortable, I could be the first one up out of here. I’m the same guy I was last year, a guy on the bubble trying to show coaches what I can do.”

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