PITTSBURGH (AP) — William Jackson thought he'd make it to Pittsburgh a long time ago.
The veteran NFL cornerback met with Steelers coach Mike Tomlin and other members of the staff before the 2016 draft and walked out of it thinking there was a strong chance he'd end up in black and gold by the end of the first round.
Cincinnati had other ideas, grabbing Jackson with the 24th overall selection, one spot before Pittsburgh, who ended up taking cornerback Artie Burns with the next pick.
Funny how things turn out. Pittsburgh acquired Jackson from Washington at the trade deadline on Tuesday in hopes he can help a unit that has struggled with consistency during a 2-6 start.
Jackson ended up making the three-hour drive to his new team late Tuesday night and spent Wednesday trying to hit the ground running.
With the Steelers off this week, there's a legitimate chance Jackson could be on the field when Pittsburgh returns to play on Nov. 13 against New Orleans.
“I’ve been playing man all my life,” Jackson said after his first practice. “Obviously I've got to work it every day ... It’s going to come with repetition.”
Jackson was likely heading out of Washington one way or another this week after falling out of favor with Commanders coach Ron Rivera.
The team may have released him outright but instead found a willing trade partner in the Steelers, who acquired Jackson and a conditional seventh-round pick for a conditional sixth-round pick.
Jackson, who played in four games for Washington this season before hurting his back in a loss to Tennessee last month, has no ill will toward his former team.
“I enjoyed my time there,” Jackson said. “I have nothing but love for the guys. Things just didn’t work out.”
The trade reunites Jackson with Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, who served in the same position with Cincinnati during a portion of the 2018 season.
“He's really good when he's healthy,” Austin said of Jackson. “He's an outstanding cover man. He's got length. He's got speed. He gets football. We'll just have to get him up to speed here in terms of what we're doing."
Pittsburgh's secondary has been dogged by injury for much of the season. Starting safeties Minkah Fitzpatrick and Terrell Edmunds and top cornerbacks Ahkello Witherspoon, Cam Sutton and Levi Wallace have all missed time after getting banged up.
Jackson's arrival provides added depth and more competition for playing time, hardly a bad thing for a team off to its worst start since 2013.
“Competition heightens effort,” Pittsburgh secondary coach Grady Brown said. “And when you play with a heightened effort every day in practice, it will affect the way you play in the game.”
The Steelers have flip-flopped between solid and so-so on the back end for most of the season. The absence of a consistent pass rush thanks to an injury to star outside linebacker T.J. Watt hasn't helped. Watt is expected to be available as soon as the New Orleans game, and his presence might make things easier for a secondary that has had trouble holding onto the ball.
Pittsburgh's defensive backs have dropped several potential interceptions this season, including four in a 16-10 loss to Miami alone. Brown is hopeful once one member of the secondary gets an interception, more will follow.
“I definitely believe in the law of attraction,” Brown said. “I believe that as a man, I think it’s so, so it can be so.”
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