The curious benching of William Jackson III early in Commanders’ loss vs. Titans

Commanders’ William Jackson III removed early in loss to Titans originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington


LANDOVER, Md. — For the second straight week, Washington Commanders head coach Ron Rivera made a big change in his team’s lineup during the early portion of the game.

Last week in Dallas, starting right guard Trai Turner was pulled after one series in favor of Saahdiq Charles. Then on Sunday, starting cornerback William Jackson III was taken out of the game in the first quarter following a Tennessee Titans’ touchdown drive. Jackson III would not play another snap for the remainder of the game, as he stood on the sideline with his helmet off and a towel draped over his head.

Following the game, an upset Jackson III eventually spoke with the media and said he was dealing with a bulging disc in his back, one he felt he could no longer play through.

“Just dealing with a back injury. I’m fighting through it for my teammates but things happen,” Jackson III said. “When you’re just playing hurt, it’s better to let someone else to go in. I’ve got a disc and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Head coach Ron Rivera offered a different perspective following the game, though.

“We just decided to make a change,” Rivera said.

It’s worth noting that when Rivera pulled Turner the week prior, the head coach made it clear part of the reason was due to the guard still working his way back from a quad injury that sidelined him for much of training camp. With Jackson III, Rivera didn’t bring up the cornerback’s back injury.

“We make decisions based on the flow of the game,” Rivera said when asked about Jackson III’s removal. “That was one of the things we decided on.”

Jackson III was specifically asked if he told the coaches he could no longer play due to injury or if he was simply benched.

“I just knew I couldn’t go [any] more,” he said. “I’ve just got to get this thing all the way together.”

If Jackson III was benched for his play — which seems to be the case based on Rivera’s comments — it’s the latest event in what’s been a disappointing tenure for the cornerback in Washington. The 29-year-old was signed in free agency last spring to a three-year, $40 million deal, with the hope he and Kendall Fuller would become one of the better cornerback tandems in the league.

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In 2021, Jackson III struggled out of the gate, largely to what he and the coaching staff attributed to the differences in Jack Del Rio’s defensive system and the style of football he previously played in Cincinnati. Jackson III’s performance did improve late in the year, however, and Washington’s staff felt the cornerback was poised for a big jump in 2022 with a year in Del Rio’s system under his belt. Just this past Thursday, Del Rio said he felt Jackson III had “greater comfort”.

Unfortunately for all parties, that hasn’t been the case. Jackson III’s 2022 campaign has been rougher than his 2021 season, highlighted by a performance in Dallas where he was called for three penalties, two of which were deemed pass interference calls.

Early on in Sunday’s contest, Jackson III had the chance to tackle Titans star running back Derrick Henry in the backfield on a third-and-1. While tackling Henry 1-on-1 is no easy task, Jackson III failed to even come close to making the play. The cornerback dove at Henry’s legs, which he easily sidestepped before picking up the first down. Two plays later, the Titans found the end zone. Jackson III’s day was done after that.

After the game, Fuller showed support for his teammate and also referenced the back ailment he’s currently going through.

“I’ve got a lot of trust in [Will]. … Will is a competitor, man,” Fuller said. “I know what it takes to play DB. I’ve seen him over the years from a distance and he has what it takes. It’s just a matter of all of us going out there and playing together and doing what we’re capable of.”

With the Commanders set to play again in just four days, Jackson III was asked if he thinks he’ll feel well enough to play. The veteran was non-committal either way.

“We’ll see. I just got to see how my body feels. It’s one of those things where treatment [doesn’t] really help it,” Jackson III said, before later adding “It always hurts. It’s a disc. If one of you guys had a disc bulging in your back, how would you feel? I was just trying to tough it out.”

Even if Jackson III is able to play on Thursday, Rivera and his staff must decide whether they want him out there at all. At this point, that’s far from a guarantee.

This article was written by WTOP’s news partner, NBC Sports Washington. Sign up for NBC Sports Washington’s free email subscription today.

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