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Eason brings AFC North Stance to D-Line

Geno Atkins' career has crossed with the playing path of new D-Line coach Nick Eason.
Geno Atkins' career has crossed with the playing path of new D-Line coach Nick Eason.

INDIANAPOLIS _ For the first time since franchise great Tim Krumrie stormed the sidelines from 1995-2002, the Bengals have a former NFL defensive lineman coaching up front.

But Nick Eason, 38, is also young enough to have played in games against three of his players when he was with the Steelers and Cardinals in a nine-year career as a back-up 3-4 end that spanned 117 games, 21 starts and two Super Bowls.

"I'll be able to relate to the players," said Eason during a break Friday at the NFL scouting combine. "I believe in technique. I believe in playing hard, keeping things simple and playing within the framework of the defense. As coach, you've got to be motivating guys. I'm pretty high intense, more in a positive way. I'm going to have fun. They're going to have fun with it."

Eason, a fourth-round pick in 2003 of the Broncos, is heading into his 17th NFL season as a player and coach. He didn't play until he hooked on with Cleveland in 2004 and then returned to the Browns in 2013 to start his coaching career as an intern before serving four years on the Titans' line, the last two in 2016-17 as the line coach. Eason had just joined Vanderbilt when Bengals defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo reached out through mutual friends in one of his first calls to make the hire.

Eason, who got a Super Bowl ring with the '08 Steelers, is quite familiar with the AFC North, where he played seven seasons with Cleveland and Pittsburgh. His first start for the Steelers came against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium in 2007 against a left guard named Andrew Whitworth and he played in the Bengals' War of 18-12 victory in Pittsburgh in 2009 when rookie Michael Johnson was one of the Bengals' ends. Eason also played for the Steelers the next season and the Cardinals in 2011 when future Pro Bowl tackle Geno Atkins and end Carlos Dunlap joined Johnson on the defensive line.

Johnson is scheduled to become a free agent, but Atkins and Dunlap are back to add to their all-time leading franchise sacks.

"All those guys have played well for a long time and I've got a lot of respect for them. They've always played hard," Eason said. "Geno's play speaks for itself. I know how these guys play around the league and Geno does it the right way. I love the way Carlos plays. He brings a lot to the table. You need personalities like Carlos in the locker room."

Eason teed it up 11 times against the Bengals and his team won six of them. However, some of the losses he was involved in were wild games which included the Bengals' 58-48 win over the Browns in 2004, the last-second 23-20 victory over the Steelers in 2009 and the Christmas Eve win over the Cardinals that put the Bengals in the 2011 playoffs.

"It's always a hostile environment. Great fans, great city," Eason said. "Playing in The Jungle was always a challenge. I'm excited to be here and to be a Bengal."

Eason is player friendly, but don't be fooled. He knows how to run a room.

"I played the position for a long time. I get it," Eason said. "I know what OTAs are like. I know what training camp is like. I've been in the room. I know all the tricks of the trade."

Anarumo, hired just last week, had to laugh about the scene the last couple of days in the PBS coaching wing. With most of the coaches at the combine or headed there, the place was empty except the even more recently hired Eason and Jordan Kovacs, the defensive quality control coach that played 17 of his 28 NFL games at safety under Anarumo in Miami. Kovacs is coming from a graduate assistant assignment at his alma mater of Michigan.

"It's been him and I and then Nick got there (Wednesday). So it's the three of us and the carpenters," Anarumo said of the office renovation.

"(Eason) was a guy that brings great experience as a player and knows the game, knows the NFL. He was a good get for us. Great guy. He'll do a terrific job with those guys up front."

Anarumo and head coach Zac Taylor also turned to another Miami tie to hire their linebackers coach.

"Tem Lukabu is a guy I've kind of known through the years. Zac knew him some. He did an internship with us in Miami," Anarumo said of the Bill Walsh Minority Internship Program that the 37-year-old Lukabu completed. "He's been with the 49ers and Tampa Bay. Last year his group at Mississippi State finished first in college football on defense, so obviously they're doing some good things there."