Watching from the sidelines can be a joy for fans or even coaches, but for players, few things in life are as painful.
Anyone who’s played a sport at a level that gets them into the pros knows watching the game you love from the sidelines can be a brutal ordeal. That applies to both rookies of the greenest nature or veterans who’ve played at the highest level imaginable.
William Jackson III and Brandon Thompson shared a similar pain last year as they watched their teammates compete, grow and play the game of football. Both players were sidelined with injuries that ultimately cost them all of 2016 and kept them from playing a single down.
It was a rough introduction to the NFL for Jackson, the Bengals’ first-round pick one year ago. He was eager to play a big role in Cincinnati’s defense, but a torn pectoral muscle suffered in training camp prevented that from ever happening.
This week, as the Bengals opened OTAs, Jackson got back on the field with his teammates for the first time in what felt like a lifetime.
“It was a big day for me,” Jackson told My Dayton Daily News. “I 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. So I give myself a 50 out of a 100. It will get better.”
It’s been a special year for Jackson, who earned his degree in sociology from the University of Houston, one year after leaving early to chase his NFL dreams.
“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.”
All of our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them. What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us. This graduation felt like the NFL draft, the only difference is I can carry my degree for life and it'll never expire #iWiLL happy Mother's Day mama love you
Jackson faces an uphill battle to see significant playing time this year as the Bengals return veterans Dre Kirkpatrick, Josh Shaw, Adam Jones and Darqueze Dennard in the secondary.
The same is true of Thompson, though his path to a starting spot is much easier. After Domata Peko signed with Denver, Thompson sees a chance for a bigger role in this defense.
“The window is open,” Thompson said. “I’m ready. I’m back to it now. I’m feeling great.”
Thompson missed 2016 while recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the final game of the 2015 season. Though he was eligible to return from PUP, Thompson ended up saying there as he didn’t play a single snap last season.
Now, Thompson is just happy to be back on the field with his teammates.
“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.”
Thompson will look to challenge Andrew Billings and Pat Sims for the second starting defensive tackle spot next to Geno Atkins this season. It’s more likely that Thompson will back up Atkins, but all that matters now is he’s back on a football field.