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Impact of Adam Jones’ suspension on Bengals cornerback unit

The Bengals’ most tenured cornerback is set to miss the first game of the season with a suspension. What does it mean for the team, especially the young cornerbacks on the roster?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

While it has been expected by some for a while, on Friday, the NFL made official a one-game suspension for Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones. The veteran corner will miss Week 1 (unless he appeals and wins his appeal) for another off-field run-in this past January. Because of this, Jones will not be active on the team’s roster in their season-opening home game against the Baltimore Ravens.

While the decision puts the Bengals in a precarious position, other players in a deep secondary will benefit—even if it’s for just one game. The obvious beneficiaries of Jones sitting out the first week seem to be William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard, but there are other players who will also be affected.

Here is a look at the players impacted by Jones’ suspension and how they might affect the look of the Bengals’ defense in Week 1.

Putting extra short-term pressure on Dre Kirkpatrick

With Jones out for a critical Week 1 matchup against the Ravens, Kirkpatrick becomes the most battle-tested player at corner. He and Jones have a good rapport and were quite successful as a starting tandem last year, but there will be a new face to start the season on the other side of the field.

Pressure from signing a big contract aside, Kirkpatrick will need to play at a high level with Jones out of the lineup in case there are struggles on the other side. Though Joe Flacco had just one touchdown and two interceptions in the games against Cincinnati last year, there were signs of trouble against the pass—particularly in the Bengals’ Week 12 loss in Baltimore.

The former high round picks

Darqueze Dennard: Josh Shaw and Dennard seem to be ready to battle for the team’s slot duties again in 2017. Even though Dennard was an outside corner at Michigan State, Marvin Lewis and Paul Guenther seem to like him playing inside. Still, it would appear that he and second-year corner William Jackson III have the inside track on who will start against Baltimore to start the season on the boundary.

William Jackson III: Some think the upside of Jackson is so high that he could quickly become the best corner on the Bengals’ roster. Unfortunately, a season-ending injury last year derailed any rookie development and he’s now playing catch-up. While his athleticism and possible better fit as an outside corner may give him the leg up to get the Week 1 start, he hasn’t even taken a preseason snap to date, while Dennard has 39 games of NFL experience under his belt. Predictably, Geoff Hobson of recently noted the competition to start in Jones’ place will come down to Jackson and Dennard.

KeiVarae Russell: Though he wasn’t drafted by the Bengals, Russell was still a third round pick of the Chiefs in 2016. He only played one defensive snap in 2016 against the Ravens in Week 17, but made the most of it by logging an interception on Ravens backup Ryan Mallett. There is talk of Russell being one of the last corners the Bengals keep this year, so Jones’ suspension might not have a huge impact on his roster chances and defensive snaps in Week 1, but it could help him be assured of a roster spot, at least for one week as the team will get to utilize Jones’ roster spot to field an extra player until he returns. If the final spot at cornerback comes down to Russell and Bene Benwikere, it’s possible both make the initial roster and then one is cut once Jones returns.

The intriguing swing guys:

Josh Shaw: While conventional thought is Shaw is a slot guy who can occasionally play various roles—like safety—be sure to remember his performance in Week 1 last year against the New York Jets. Shaw often played inside and out in the secondary during that game, logging four tackles and the game-sealing interception. Again, the fill-in starting job might go to one of the team’s former first round picks, but if there is uneasiness there from the coaching staff, Shaw could be another decent option to start on the boundary for Week 1.

Brandon Wilson: He’s currently listed as a safety with the team, but Wilson does have corner experience from college. He won’t get the starting job, but could see more defensive and special teams snaps due to Jones’ absence. If anything, his chances to stick on the team grow, if in jeopardy, even if it’s only for one week.