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Sojourn Shelton looking to make big leap with Bengals in 2018

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After a season on the practice squad, Sojourn Shelton is looking for more in 2018.

NCAA Football: Nebraska at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Cracking the Bengals’ final 53-man roster as a defensive back will prove very challenging in 2018.

That’s especially true at cornerback, where the Bengals already have roster locks in Dre Kirkpatrick, William Jackson and Darqueze Dennard. Then you’ve got veterans Josh Shaw and KeiVarae Russell battling draftees Devontae Harris and Darius Phillips for final available spots.

But don’t count out Sojourn Shelton.

Shelton was an undrafted free agent out of Wisconsin who signed with the Cardinals following the 2017 NFL Draft. He made a strong push for a spot on the final roster, but he was ultimately waived during final cuts.

Instead of sticking with Arizona, Shelton joined the Bengals’ practice squad, where he spent most of 2017 before signing a futures contract this offseason.

Now, Shelton is among several second-year players who Duke Tobin has high hopes for.

“He’s got really good feet in coverage. Very good man ability,” Tobin told Bengals.com. “It will be interesting to see how he matches up with some of the bigger receivers that we’ve got coming in for rookie minicamp. We liked him in the (2017) draft. We liked his man cover skills.”

Shelton was a four-year starter for the Badgers, which included an Honorable Mention All-Big Ten freshman season in 2013, then Second-Team All-Big Ten honors in 2016 as a senior, where he recorded 27 tackles, four interceptions and 12 pass breakups.

However, Shelton’s standout career was not enough to get him picked in the 2017 NFL Draft. What likely affected his NFL interest was his 5’9”, 177-pound measurements at the NFL Scouting Combine. That’s very small for an NFL defensive back, but he certainly overcame those shortcomings in college.

Now, Shelton hopes to do the same in the pros with the help of new Bengals secondary coach Daronte Jones. The new assistant spent the 2015 season as the defensive backs coach at Wisconsin, when Shelton was a junior.

“Good footwork. Changes direction. That’s how he makes his name. Covering,” Jones said. “It’s a league where you have to cover. Can’t have too many of those.”

That previous background is helping Shelton in Year 2 of his pro career.

“It’s a comfort. I know what he likes, the things that he preaches and what he expects out of his players,” Shelton said. “It’s good just to know what to expect (in a rookie camp). You can’t look too deep into it. All you can do is take care of yourself. I’m just going to go in having fun and playing. I pride myself (on cover skills). It’s nice to be able to go against receivers again for the first time since last season.”