DJ Turner’s Splash and Dash Highlights Rookie’s Growth on Otherwise Disappointing Bengals Defense

On a day lacking highlights for the Cincinnati Bengals, cornerback DJ Turner II had three of them to continue his impressive rookie season.

CINCINNATI — Sunday certainly didn’t feel like August, with the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers playing in 40-degree rain, but at times it looked like it.

Three times, to be exact.

Rookie cornerback DJ Turner II wasted no time turning heads in training camp by consistently making splash plays against the likes of Ja’Marr Chase and Tee Higgins while playing with the first-team defense as Chidobe Awuzie worked his way back from ACL surgery.

Rookie DJ Turner a Bright Spot on Bengals Struggling Defense

While Turner has played well enough to start seven consecutive games, forcing Awuzie into the shorter side of a platoon, Sunday marked the first time the rookie second-round pick turned in big plays in bunches.

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The Michigan product made two plays to prevent Pittsburgh touchdowns in the 16-10 loss and had another one that led to a Cincinnati score when — one play after breaking up a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone — he recovered a Jaylen Warren fumble and returned it 28 yards.

“That’s why you never give up on a play,” Turner said. “Both of those plays was me not giving up on the play.”

Steelers quarterback Kenny Pickett threw a strike to Diontae Johnson for what appeared to be a 15-yard touchdown. Pickett and his teammates were running to congratulate Johnson when they realized the referee had signaled an incomplete pass. Turner jarred the ball free from Johnson after he had taken a couple of steps and was going to the ground.

“I saw the ball when it came in,” Turner said. “I definitely was trying to punch the ball out.”

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The play might have been reversed to a touchdown had Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin challenged it, but he didn’t. On the next play, defensive tackle Zach Carter punched the ball out of Warren’s arms just before the running back’s knee hit the ground.

There were a lot of players standing around as the ball bounced on the turf, but Turner was one of the first to react, scooping it up and taking off, ultimately coming within one Steeler — fullback Connor Heyward — of taking it 89 yards for a touchdown.

“He had the angle, so I couldn’t just keep running straight,” Turner said. “I was trying to spin him up and hit the sideline, but he did a good job.”

The Bengals converted the turnover into their only touchdown drive of the game to take a 7-3 lead.

Turner’s third big play came in the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh leading 10-7. The Steelers had third-and-6 at the Cincinnati 16-yard line when Pickett again tried to hit Johnson in the end zone. However, Turner had good coverage and was able to reach his hand in and deflect the pass at the front pylon, forcing them to settle for a Chris Boswell field goal and a 13-7 lead.

“I had the better position,” Turner said. “He ran an out, I broke on it, drove on it. I just believed what the film told me throughout the week.”

Cincinnati has believed in what Turner has shown them since camp, which is why defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has backed away from his stance on playing rookies.

Turner is one of the least targeted rookie corners in the league, per Pro Football Focus, seeing one every 8.8 snaps. Only the New York Giants’ Tre Hawkins III has been targeted less often (9.4).

The lack of action has Turner with only four passes defensed, and he’s still looking for his first interception. Yet, the fumble recovery and return were every bit as big.

“If I see the ball, I’m gonna get it,” Turner said.

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