While the Cincinnati Bengals rookies were carrying helmets and running other errands for the older players during the first week of training camp, veteran cornerback Sidney Jones IV was undergoing his own sort of initiation ritual courtesy of quarterback Joe Burrow.
Regardless of which receiver Jones was covering, Burrow was looking and throwing his way. Over and over and over again. Each of Burrow’s four throws — to three different receivers — in the first 11-on-11 series went at Jones. And it continued for the rest of the day, whether it was 11s or 7-on-7.
“Yeah, there probably was something to that (testing the new guy),” Bengals cornerbacks coach Chuck Burks said.
Sidney Jones IV and DJ Turner Battling During Bengals’ Training Camp
Burrow’s first throw of 11s was a short completion to Tee Higgins with Jones in coverage. On the next play, Burrow hit Higgins in stride down the sideline for a touchdown, with Jones trailing. The pass after that went to rookie Andrei Iosivas, and Jones got his hands on it for his first of what have been several PBUs in camp.
“There’s things you want to get better at it, but what you want to see as a cornerbacks coach is how do people respond to adversity,” Burks said. “And then how do you respond after you make a play?”
So far, so good for Jones in what has been his first few days facing the Bengals’ offense. Despite signing a one-year, $1.3 million deal with Cincinnati a couple of weeks into free agency, Jones hasn’t had much chance to run with Ja’Marr Chase or Higgins until last week due to the scaled-back OTA schedule that didn’t include any team periods.
He will battle rookie second-round pick DJ Turner for the No. 4 cornerback spot, but with starter Chidobe Awuzie still working back from his ACL injury, Jones has been getting reps with the 1s through the first week of practice.
“All reps, no matter if they’re 1s, 2s, or 3s, are valuable,” Jones said. “As long as you’re out there and putting good stuff on tape, you can learn from it and correct it, and then just progress over time. That’s the biggest thing, you always want to be progressing, progressing. Just any opportunity I get is a blessing, but specifically to go with the 1s it’s great competition with the receivers. I’m very grateful for that.”
Turner didn’t get the same attention from Burrow during the quarterback’s two practices before suffering a calf strain. That’s because Turner was running with the 2s and doing everything he could to earn a shot at some first-team reps.
The fastest player on the team, Turner ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine. And he’s translated that to the field with perhaps the most PBUs of any player in camp. And while he’s upset that he hasn’t turned any of those passes he’s gotten a hand on into interceptions, Burks likes what he’s seen from the rookie.
“He’s a guy that can wake up at 5:30 and cover,” he said. “That’s what we saw when he evaluated him coming into the draft. I really, really love his confidence to be in position and be able to look back and try to attack the ball.”
Turner spent a lot of time with his former college teammate at Michigan, 2022 first-round pick Dax Hill, going over what he learned in OTAs to be ready for camp, and it’s shown. The next step is putting on pads to prove he’s more than just a speed-cover guy.
“I’ve heard that my whole life, literally entire life, so I’m used to that comment,” he said. “It doesn’t faze me. I used to play safety, so I’m not scared of hitting. I’m definitely ready to put on pads.”
Also in the mix is Allan George, who made the 53-man roster out of camp last year as an undrafted college free agent from Vanderbilt.
George had two impressive PBUs on Friday, one of which came on a diving deflection in the end zone.
“Confidence is something I’m trying to come in with more of this year because last year I was kind of [on] the fence, as far as ‘Did I do the right thing? Did I make the wrong move? If I miss a tackle this practice, am I cut?’ That type of deal,” George said.
“Now I’m just really letting it loose, because confidence is the main thing you need to have to play corner. I believe in myself, I know my coaches believe me, and I know my teammates believe in me, so I’m just going there and letting it fly.”
Awuzie is close to returning to full participation with fellow starters Cam Taylor-Britt and Mike Hilton. When he does, the chain reaction will have Jones, Turner, and George on the field at the same time battling for the top spot off the bench behind the starters.
Burks said he’s obviously eager to have Awuzie back, but his absence has had benefits.
“It’s been great because you get more looks at the guys you have in your cornerback room. All these guys can be interchangeable. They can play in the slot, they can play on the perimeter, and the competition out here within the group has been great.”
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