Carlos Dunlap doesn’t hesitate when asked if he has a favorite Geno Atkins highlight.
“The one where he took the Steelers lineman (Willie Colon), threw him down, and then sacked Ben Roethlisberger,” said Dunlap with a laugh. “That lineman was every bit of 350 pounds and Geno make him look like 250.”
A.J. Green picks a play from when he and Atkins were teammates at the University of Georgia.
“I remember one time where Geno said, ‘A.J., I’m about to go make a play in the backfield.’” recalled Green. “He made it for about a 10-yard loss. We knew from day one that he was going to be a great player.”
NFL teams obviously didn’t know how great Atkins was going to be when he lasted until the fourth round of the 2010 draft, but his status as one of the league’s best defensive players was made abundantly clear on Monday when Geno agreed to a 5-year, $55 million contract extension with Cincinnati. One member of the team told me that players cheered when news of the extension began spreading in the locker room.
“I’ve never seen him take a day off, or a play off, or anything like that,” said Green. “You want a player like that to be rewarded.”
“You want to keep those core guys that have been around here for a little while and are a big part of where we want to go,” said Leon Hall. “I think it’s important to keep those kinds of guys here.”
“The work he puts in on the football field doesn’t even match what he does off of it – he trains and works out as hard as anybody,” said Andrew Whitworth. “When you see a guy like that who has worked his way toward success, you’re happy for him. And it means a lot to the locker room because it shows guys where you can be if you apply yourself.”
And while Atkins is considerably wealthier than he was 24 hours ago, the Bengals expect him to remain a no-nonsense grinder who leads through actions and not words.
“He’s still the same guy, man,” said Green. “It doesn’t matter how rich he is, or how much money he has, he’s still going to be the same old humble Geno that comes to work every day.”
“It’s great that he works his tail off and tries to outwork everybody in the building because that kind of sets the tone for all of the young guys,” said Whitworth.
Nobody knows that better than second-year guard Kevin Zeitler who is constantly matched up against Atkins at practice.
“He has definitely helped me improve,” Zeitler told me. “Just the combination of his strength, speed, and all of his moves. I haven’t faced another defensive tackle so far who can come close to what Geno brings. It makes game day feel a little easier when I get out there.
“He never takes a rep off and he’s deserving of every penny that he gets. The only downside I guess is that I have to go against him in practice every day for the next five years.”
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