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Bengals take pass rusher, LB in fourth

Geno Atkins

Updated: 2:10 p.m.

The Bengals began the third and last day of the NFL Draft the way they began the second when they selected a pass rusher with their first pick in the fourth round. At No. 120 they went for Georgia defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a 6-1 298-pounder that is known for a quick step in a one-gap pass rush. He was productive in 23 starts with 11 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss even though he's undersized.

And don't mention undersized to him.

Put Atkins in that long list of Bengals that are in the have-a-chip category. In his conference call with the Cincinnati media Saturday morning, he said he's going to play with one because of the too-small knock. He says his strengths are his speed and quickness, and his combine numbers are glittering with a 4.75-second 40-yard dash spiced with 34 bench-press reps.

He was the Defensive MVP for the Bulldogs in last season's Independence Bowl win over Texas A&M in which he blocked a field goal and had a sack.

Then with their second pick in the fourth the Bengals plucked Texas linebacker Roddrick Muckelroy, a 6-1, 236-pounder that looks like he could play SAM or the middle, but he also played the WILL while leading the Longhorns in tackles. With starting middle linebacker Dhani Jones, backup Abdul Hodge, and backup outside backers Brandon Johnson and Rashad Jeanty all working on one-year deals, some young depth can't hurt.

The Atkins choice also jacks up the competition on the defensive line, where Clinton McDonald and Orien Harris are backing up the top three rotation of Domata Peko, Tank Johnson and Pat Sims.

Throw in the second-round pick of Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap, and the Bengals suddenly have a plethora of ends that can move inside to rush the passer like Dunlap, Antwan Odom, Frostee Rucker and Jon Fanene. Throw in starting left end Robert Geathers and right-end pass rusher Michael Johnson, and that gives them six ends when they usually keep four. But they could keep five and count Johnson as a linebacker if they decide to follow through on their plans to make him more versatile.

For defensive line coach Jay Hayes, height is no matter. It is a simple case of going with a guy who has the specifications of players that succeed in the league.  

"He has things that you like," Hayes said of Atkins. "He's a little on the shorter side, but that can be an advantage because he's always going to be under people's pads. And then the size and speed ratio of this guy is phenomenanl compared to most defensive tackles. For a defensive tackle to run 4.8 at the combine is very unusual. Very unusual for a 298-pound person."

Hayes likes Atkins at 298: "He's buffed. He's got muscles on muscles."

Plus he's got NFL DNA. His father is Gene Atkins, a 10-year safety with the Saints and Dolphins that New Orleans took in the seventh round of the 1987 draft.

Hayes has high regard for Rucker and Fanene, two guys that can slide inside as nickel rushers and able to play both ends in the base. Dunlap can also be a guy like that. There are times the Bengals like to rush the passer with three and four ends, and that's where a guy like Atkins can be helpful.

"If we have more ends on the field and if we need one stout guy that has some pass rush ability," Hayes said. "Sometimes we get in that situation we have our tackles in the game, but you're looking for a little more pass rush. We're hoping that Gino can do this because that's what he's done over his career. ... We're just trying to get our best pass rushers on the field."

Told that it looked like somebody established might get cut, Hayes said, "I got cut five times. That's what this is. And I love my guys. ... We're just going to get the best players. That's what this is all about."

With the fourth-rated Bengals defense looking down the barrel at several of the NFL's top quarterbacks this season, defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer is trying to jack up the pass rush with not only technique and scheme, but personnel. Zimmer had success lining up his right end, Odom and then Odom's replacement, Fanene, over the guard on passing downs. Of the Bengals' 34 sacks last year, 15 came from Odom, Fanene and Rucker, three guys that can move inside.

"What do they say? Pass rushers are like fast cars, quick horses, and pretty women," Hayes said. "You can never have enough."

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