For most of his life, Gene Renard Atkins Jr, has been known as “Geno,” but in January, the Bengals defensive tackle picked up a new nickname: “Pro Bowler” Geno Atkins.
“Some of my teammates call me that as a joke, but most people still just call me Geno,” Atkins said with a grin.
The 24-year-old from Pembroke Pines, FL had two tackles in the AFC’s 59-41 win and raved about the opportunity.
“I got to bring my family to Hawaii and it was a great experience,” Geno told me. “I learned a lot from the older vets like Richard Seymour, Antonio Smith, and guys like that.”
Atkins earned the trip to Honolulu – and the new nickname – with a spectacular second season in the NFL. In fact, the website ProFootballFocus.com calls Geno a “Sophomore Superstar” and said that only Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski is coming off of a better season from the 2010 draft class.
“He had a season very comparable to Ndamukong Suh’s 2010, only for some reason he didn’t have the same hype machine working for him,” said Pro Football Focus analyst Sam Monson. “In 2010, Suh notched 11 sacks, 6 knockdowns and 24 hurries from 547 pass rushing snaps. This season, Atkins posted 8 sacks, 15 knockdowns and 26 hurries from only 475 pass-rushing snaps. Atkins was easily the most effective pass-rushing defensive tackle in the NFL last season, and the surprise to me was that he learned how to use his skills to his advantage in the run game as well. Rather than waiting and reacting and often getting washed out by bigger linemen, he attacked against the run too, and was far more proactive that way.”
Atkins was a big reason why the Bengals finished seventh in the NFL’s total defense rankings last year. Defensive lineman Frostee Rucker and Jonathan Fanene left as free agents, and safety Chris Crocker was released, but the nine of the team’s top 11 tacklers are back.
“We lost Frostee and Fanene and they were two key guys for us,” said Atkins. “But being in this league, you know that it’s ‘Next guy up.’ We brought in two good guys (Jamaal Anderson and Derrick Harvey) that are going to take up the slack there.
“We know the potential that we have, where we can go, and what it takes to get there. We’re all excited to get back to work and build on that success.”
In addition to his Pro Bowl trip, Atkins went on a 7-day cruise to the Caribbean last winter, but Geno sounded happy to return to Cincinnati last week for the start of the Bengals off-season conditioning program.
“It feels good to come back and see all of your teammates and friends,” said Atkins. “We know that we’re going to build on something very important and try to get to the next level.”
Wouldn’t “Super Bowler” have a nice ring to it?
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