On Monday, the Cincinnati Bengals signed defensive tackle Geno Atkins (pictured above) to a five-year, $55 million extension. The contract ranks only below the five-year, $61 million extension signed in 2011 by the Baltimore Ravens' Haloti Ngata, as the most lucrative extension signed by a defensive tackle in NFL history.
And those that are very familiar with what Atkins brings to the table may even consider the deal a bargain. The 6'1", 300-pound three-technique defensive tackle is just 25, and has gotten significantly better every season.
In 2010, he had three sacks and 16 tackles in 16 games, although he only started one of those games (he was a rookie fourth-round pick).
In 2011, he had eight sacks, 47 tackles, and two forced fumbles in 16 games (15 started).
And in 2012, he really broke onto the scene, recording 12.5 sacks (tops among NFL interior defensive linemen), 54 tackles, and four forced fumbles in 16 games (started all of them). He recorded at least 0.5 sacks in 10 of the 16 games. He was also named a first-team All-Pro, and Pro Football Focus gave him an overall rating of 79.9 on the season. If you have no idea if that's good, just consider that the second-best defensive tackle graded in 2012 by Pro Football Focus, Tampa Bay's Gerald McCoy, had a rating 48.2 points worse than that. It's very, very good.
So what could the league's best 4-3 defensive tackle be in for in 2013? Our Chicago Bears will be the ones getting the first taste of that, Sunday at Soldier Field. And more accurately, it will be the Bears' interior offensive line -- left guard Matt Slauson, center Roberto Garza, and right guard Kyle Long -- getting that first taste.
Nice little matchup for Long in his first NFL game, eh? Really, it's quite possible he doesn't go up against a better interior defensive lineman the rest of his (hopefully long... no pun intended) NFL career.
So this will be quite the test for the Bears' 2013 first-round pick, though he certainly passed all the tests he faced in the preseason. Long received a 7.9 overall grade from Pro Football Focus in the preseason, the highest grade they gave to any guard in the preseason. The performance landed Long on the "PFF Team of Preseason".
Long's preseason performance even impressed Atkins. The Bengals' defensive tackle had the following to say about Long to the Chicago media during a conference call on Wednesday:
“He’s big and he’s physical, very aggressive and a strong player,” Atkins said. “And by watching him, you can tell he likes to get after defensive linemen. He likes to get off, be aggressive and show his strength.”Source: ESPN Chicago
While Atkins may have some tricks up his sleeve for the rookie in the trenches, I'm actually more concerned for the Bears about the veteran center Garza having to deal with Atkins. Garza's a smart player and great leader manning the middle of the Bears' line, but at 34, his skills are on the decline (and have been for a few years), and he's going to have his hands full vs the beast that Atkins is.
The Bengals' entire front seven is very impressive, so getting "help" in blocking Atkins could open up opportunities for their other six players to make plays, and could cause a very difficult time for another Bears rookie starter on the right side of the line, right tackle Jordan Mills. While Mills looked good himself in the Bears' preseason games, we have to remember this is a fifth-round pick starting at right tackle in his NFL debut, and he has a very tough task going up against defensive end Carlos Dunlap, the Bengals' best edge rusher.
Therefore, the Bears can't overly focus on Atkins; they're going to need to have the interior offensive linemen hold their own (or at least come close to doing so) in one-on-one battles. But look for Bears head coach and playcaller, Marc Trestman, to design some plays for moving pockets with Jay Cutler and try to get Matt Forte in space on the outside. Then again, nobody knows exactly what to expect with Trestman and this Bears offense (especially in the debut), and perhaps that could work to their advantage against Atkins and this ferocious Bengals front seven.
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