CLEVELAND -- The Cincinnati Bengals have sometimes been known for their reluctance to give their youngest players extended playing time, particularly on defense.
But a team that once gave their defensive rookies zero snaps during the 2011 season is seeing things a bit differently these days. After losing their first three games, they couldn't exactly afford to be stubborn if they wanted to turn things around.
Now, with their first win of the season behind them, it's clear the Bengals are fine with riding the roller coaster of rookie mistakes in exchange for some big plays.
The Bengals have been rotating their players at an unusual clip the past two weeks. Carl Lawson and William Jackson III have benfitted the most. The two talented young players have seen their snap counts skyrocket in the past two games.
Lawson took only 17 snaps against the Texans in Week 2 and Jackson didn't have a defensive snap. That all changed after the Bengals fell to 0-2, and the team decided to shake things up. Lawson went from playing 20 percent of the game to 75 percent and rewarded the team with 2.5 sacks.
Lawson held his own against Browns tackle Joe Thomas on Sunday, finishing with two quarterback pressures.
Jackson got his shot as the outside cornerback in nickel formations against Green Bay and responded by picking off Aaron Rodgers for a touchdown.
The Bengals were able to dismiss some of their more unusual rotations last week by attributing it to the heat at Lambeau Field, but that wasn't the case against Cleveland. Clearly this is the new plan going forward, and it's mostly working.
There are still some hiccups, like Jackson's pass-interference penalty on fourth-and-2 late in the game that allowed the Browns to get on the board.
"You literally should've stopped that one on fourth down at the end that we got the penalty on, but you live and learn," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "It's a young player in William and he's got to learn that and play the way he's coached to play a little bit better. We'll get a chance for that."
But mostly the Bengals are getting good results out of players who will one day become their future. And they did it at the expense of some veterans.
Adam Jones started the game but saw his snaps decrease in favor of Jackson, at times standing on the sidelines during entire defensive drives. Jones played only 15 snaps vs. the Browns, while Jackson played 47 snaps, which accounted for 72 percent of the snaps on defense.
Jones still had a key moment in the game as a punt returner, bringing the ball back 40 yards and setting up a touchdown. But it was a different role for the veteran cornerback, who turned 34 on Saturday. Jones has been one of the main starters for the past two seasons and usually played the entire game. He was reflective about his role after the Bengals' win Sunday.
"I am just trying to be a team player," Jones said. "Obviously we have a lot of things going on in here. We rotate everybody. It's the first time I have been in the NFL where one player gets two series then someone else gets two series. ... I am just trying to keep my head on straight and enjoy the process. I'm just enjoying playing football, man. There's not too many people that can say they're still doing this at 34 years old."
The Bengals weren't limited in their rotations. Veteran Andre Smith started at left tackle in place of Cedric Ogbuehi and rotated with Ogbuehi and Fisher at both tackle positions. Alex Redmond, who had never taken an NFL snap, briefly came in for T.J. Johnson at right guard but was out again after allowing a sack.
Clayton Fejedelem and Josh Shaw both rotated in at safety. Fejedelem rotated in for Shawn Williams and immediately intercepted a pass after the ball bounced off Kenny Britt's hands. The Bengals are still in a three-way rotation at running back between Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill and Joe Mixon.