<
>

Bengals first-rounder William Jackson III eager to 'make a statement'

CINCINNATI -- These are important days for Cincinnati Bengals' William Jackson III and other NFL rookies.

As teams start passing the halfway point of organized team activities, as the Bengals did Wednesday, the time to shine this spring for first-year players is drawing to a close. After next week's OTAs, all Jackson and other Bengals rookies will have is a three-day minicamp before practices conclude until training camp in late July.

It means now is the time for Jackson to prove why he's in Cincinnati.

"I'm just trying to go out there and make a statement, and let them know why they drafted me," said Jackson, the 24th overall draft pick, simplistically outlining his goal for the remainder of the spring.

Making a statement means always being around the football, flashing some of the pass-breakup techniques that made him a star in college at Houston, intercepting a few passes and proving to coaches and Bengals veterans that he's willing to listen and accept their guidance.

According to 12-year veteran cornerback Adam Jones, Jackson has already begun doing much of that.

"He's good," Jones said. "The kid is quick as hell, too. He's just got to work on the little stuff. It'll be my job to help him, me and the coaches. And he can be really good."

The "little stuff" includes fine-tuning Jackson's footwork so he can consistently smother elite NFL receivers with his coverage. It also includes trusting his fellow Bengals defensive backs, realizing where in the secondary he'll receive help on any given play, and removing the college mentality that he can bait quarterbacks to throw in his direction.

"It's no baiting in this league," Jones said, smiling. "A couple things look good in practice won't look good in the game, just because of the mental aspects of the quarterbacks and the wide receivers. You get behind, they're going to stack you. It's just the little stuff like that that he'll pick up as we go."

At Houston, all Jackson did was make statements. Only 40 percent of the passes thrown in his direction the past two years resulted in completions. Last fall, he led the country in passes defensed with 28. He also closed the season by being named the defensive MVP of the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl after he recorded 10 tackles, intercepted two passes and broke up another two in Houston's victory over Florida State.

Many of Jackson's best college highlights are of of him leaping high with one hand for passes it would initially appear he had no business defending. Even in practices with the Bengals this spring, there have been times when receivers have sprinted past him, only for passes to deflect at the last moment off his outstretched hand.

In those cases, it helps Jackson to have good closing speed and his 31¾-inch arms, the second-longest among corners drafted in the first round. Only Artie Burns, taken by Pittsburgh one spot later, had longer arms among this year's first-round corners.

"It definitely helps for my arms to be long," Jackson said. "I cannot be there and then be there at the same time."

Perhaps that's one reason it won't be too difficult for Jackson to make his statement this spring after all.

"He's got a chance to be really special," Jones said.