The start of OTAs can have a routine feel for some players as their years in the NFL roll on, but the start of practice Tuesday was especially meaningful for a couple of Cincinnati Bengals.
It marked the first practice for cornerback William Jackson since the 2016 first-round pick tore his pectoral muscle Aug. 1. And it signified the end of an even longer drought for defensive tackle Brandon Thompson, who missed all of 2016 after tearing his ACL in the 2015 season finale.
“It felt great just to be back out with my boys again,” Thompson said. “There ain’t nothing like it. It’s one thing having to watch all the time, it’s another thing to be back out there. It was a great feeling just to be back out with my brothers again.”
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Thompson was able to practice for a three-week period late in the season after coming off the Physically Unable to Perform list, but the team decided against adding him to the 53-man roster and officially ended his season Dec. 13.
“When I came back for those three weeks last year, that’s when I got my confidence back,” Thompson said. “They told me to push it, so I think maybe the first day I kind of chilled. But after the first day I pushed it. It was good for me to take those three weeks to get out there and pound the knee a little bit.”
Like Thompson, Jackson was holding out hope he would be able to return to the 53-man roster at some point. But the Nov. 20 injury to running back Giovani Bernard forced the team’s hand, resulting in them making Cedric Peerman their lone recall from Injured Reserve instead of Jackson.
So Tuesday was a day he’s been waiting for.
“It was a big day for me,” Jackson said. “ was ready for this day because it’s been a long time. Just to get out there felt great.
“At the beginning I had to get my feet back under me, but as the practice went on I got better,” he added. “So I give myself a 50 out of a 100. It will get better.”
Returning to practice is not the only big that’s happened for Jackson this offseason. He recently earned his degree in sociology from the University of Houston.
“I was the first one in my family to do it, so it was a great thing to have them there to watch it,” he said. “I think it was bigger than me getting drafted to them. My mom wanted to see me do that. Where I come from was a rough area, so for me to do that, it was a blessing.”
Jackson enters 2017 with three years remaining on his rookie contract, but Thompson’s current deal expires at the end of this season.
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Thompson, who re-signed a two-year contract as a free agent in March 2016, has appeared in 39 games with seven starts since the Bengals drafted him in the third round out of Clemson in 2012.
With Domata Peko leaving for Denver via agency, the starting job next to Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins is up for grabs, with Thompson being one of the leading candidates to grab it.
“The window is open,” he said. “I’m ready. I’m back to it now. I’m feeling great.”
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