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Atkins Named To Seventh Pro Bowl

Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins walks off the field after an NFL football game against the Cleveland Browns, Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Cincinnati. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

Inside pass rush great Geno Atkins made it to his seventh Pro Bowl but injured wide receiver A.J. Green didn’t make it for the first time in his eight-year career when the results of the voting for the NFL’s annual all-star game were announced Tuesday night.

This is Atkins’ seventh career Pro Bowl nod, moving him ahead of CB Lemar Parrish (six) for most selections by a defensive player in Bengals history. The ninth-year pro leads the Bengals this season with 10 sacks, a total that also ranks second among NFL interior defensive linemen. He also leads the team in QB hits (19) and tackles for losses (13).

One season after being named a second alternate in the kicking game, safety and special teams captain Clayton Fejedelem was voted a first alternate with a team-leading 11 tackles. Another special teamer, returner Alex Erickson made third alternate and he’s currently third best in the NFL at 26.8 yards per kick return and second with 885 yards. Running back Joe Mixon, the AFC’s leading rusher, is also a third alternate via a vote of coaches, players and fans.

Green, who injured his big toe on the second-to-last play of the season’s eighth game on an 11-yard catch that set up the 5-3 Bengals’ last snap victory against Tampa Bay, was voted fourth alternate. Last year he became the first wide receiver since the 1970 NFL merger to make it on the initial vote in his first seven seasons in the league. He tried to come back after a three-game layoff, but only went a quarter before re-aggravating it and then underwent the first surgery of his life.

Alternates are added to the game if voted player(s) in their position group are unable to participate. Selections from the two teams reaching the Super Bowl are among those unable to play, as are players not cleared due to injury, such as Green.

Atkins, 30, is in his ninth season in a career that looks headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame with those seven Pro Bowls that tie him for second in Bengals annals with Green behind only Hall-of-Famer Anthony Munoz’s 11. A total of six pure defensive tackles whose careers began 50 or fewer years ago are in the Hall: Curley Culp, Joe Greene, Cortez Kennedy, John Randle, Warren Sapp and Randy White. They all went to at least six Pro Bowls and two (Randle and Sapp) went to seven. Culp went to six, Kennedy eight and Greene 10.

Atkins is working on his third double-digit sack season when his hat trick in the fourth quarter last Sunday against the Raiders gave him an even ten. After getting six in the first five games of the Bengals’ 4-1 start this season, Atkins’ sack rate matched the team’s inability get leads in a stretch they lost seven of the next nine games during a span five defensive linemen went on injured reserve.

Since Atkins became a starter in his second season, his longest drought had been 1.5 sacks in his first 11 games of 2014 as he came back from ACL surgery. He had one in eight games before Sunday’s break-out in a game they had a lead in the fourth quarter for the first time since Green hurt his toe on Oct. 28.

“Geno has put together another outstanding season,” said head coach Marvin Lewis in a news release. “He’s played well versus the run and versus the pass. It’s very rewarding for him to be elected to the Pro Bowl again. He deserves it.”

Bengals defensive line coach Jacob Burney, who has been in the league since 1994 and Michael Dean Perry’s Browns, knows hard those 10 sacks are to get. Despite not having the lead or losing last year’s 8.5 sacker Carl Lawson on the edge to injury or the bevy of double teams.

“All that is part of it. But that’s the NFL, right?” Burney asked. “You get double-digits in there and you’re a real deal player. We lost Carl Lawson (to an ACL tear in the seventh game) and if you go back and look at Carl’s games and he was taking a lot of heat when it came to chipping and doubling.

"(Atkins) never complains. He just keeps sawing wood,” Burney said. “A lot of times he’ll draw the attention of one lineman that’s not real busy. He doesn’t complain. He doesn’t say, ‘Hey, help me out here, I’m getting double-teamed.’ Never. Never. That says a lot about his football character.”

No question, Burney says. Atkins is one of the best he’s ever seen and the numbers say it. Only three defensive tackles in NFL history had more sacks through their first eight seasons than Atkins’

61 entering 2018: Randle (85.5), Sapp (72) and La’Roi Glover (61.5). Atkins is right there with sacks per game, an average of .526 in his 135 games compared to Sapp’s .487 in 199 and Randle’s .628 in 219.

Bengals linebackers coach Jim Haslett was the head coach in New Orleans when Glover had his 17-sack season in 2000.

“A lot of similar skills,” Haslett said. “Strong. Explosive. Quick. Two best interior guys I’ve seen.”

The 2019 Pro Bowl kicks off at 3 p.m., Sunday, Jan. 27, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Fla. on ESPN and ESPN Deportes and simulcast on ABC.

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