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Matchup Of The Game: Re-Stocked Bengals D-Line Hopes To Be X Factor

Captain Geno Atkins is talking it up in new role.
Captain Geno Atkins is talking it up in new role.


Last week's Jadeveon Clowney trade to Seattle certified the Bengals' embattled and battered offensive line would take center stage in The House That Roars on Sunday (4:05 p.m.-Cincinnati's Local 12) in Seattle. But if the Bengals are going to beat the Seahawks in head coach Zac Taylor's debut during what amounts to an AFC North game shoved into the Northwest at the end of summer, people are going to have to come out of CenturyLink Field talking about guys like their defensive tackles Ryan Glasgow and Josh Tupou and supersonic sleek pass rusher Carl Lawson rather than Clowney, Seattle's new Pro Bowl pass-rushing end.

One guy who is talking is the usually wordless Geno Atkins, the Bengals future Hall-of-Fame tackle who stopped talking to the media about four Pro Bowls ago. Even before that, Atkins was famous for barely speaking to any of his teammates and coaches. Atkins had no comment Thursday, but he appears to be loosening up with his guys. For the first time in his ten seasons he was voted a captain earlier this week, which is no surprise to first year D-line coach Nick Eason.

"He's a man of few words, but in my room he talks a lot," says Eason, who says Atkins talks enough to be a captain. "In here, he speaks when necessary. The thing about him is he shows up, which a true vet does. He does quite a lot of coaching guys up on the side. He's given (rookie tackle Renell) Wren some great pointers. He's always talking to (fellow starting tackle Andrew) Billings.  The (captaincy) is well deserved."

Atkins is leading his men into a formidable challenge. Seattle head coach Pete Carroll and his quarterback, Russell Wilson, have never lost a home opener. The Seahawks boast the NFL team defending team rushing title with an intact attack that includes 1,151-yard rusher Chris Carson, a 5-11, 222-pouder banging it behind four of five returning offensive linemen. As Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham reported during the week, last season Seattle rolled out six offensive linemen nearly a quarter of the time.

 But no Bengals position group may be more equipped to handle Sunday's challenges than a defensive line that played so well in the preseason that they kept 11 on the roster. Eason's decision to dress which nine may be his toughest of the day. As tempting as it would be to suit up ten against those massive six-manners, that would be tough to do if they want to keep active seven offensive linemen, five wide receivers, four tight ends and nine defensive backs.

But which nine? For sure, third-year tackles Ryan Glasgow and Josh Tupou backing up Atkins and Billings. Wren, the fourth-rounder, probably gets to watch as inactive. Both Glasgow and Tupou, coming off injuries, were terrific in the preseason.

"A lot of people don't care about the preseason but it meant a lot to me," says Glasgow, who looks great off ACL surgery. "I wanted to see if I was actually going to pick up where I left off and not de-gress. If anything I felt like I progressed from where I was last year."

That's the belief the Bengals have in their other young linemen looking to break out, such as Tupou, third-year pass rusher Carl Lawson looking unblockable in his one pre-season game, second-year right end Sam Hubbard now entrenched as the starter after six rookie sacks and first-year swing-man Andrew Brown pushing the pocket from both inside and outside with his explosive first step.

The Bengals basically have the same front seven as last year that finished 29th defending the rush and gave up some big running games on the road with 267 yards in Baltimore, 230 in Carolina, 198 in Kansas City and 146 in Cleveland.

But there are some major differences. Five linemen went on injured reserve, middle linebacker Preston Brown was never healthy after the first quarter of the season, the starting backers missed a total of 23 games and the Bengals never looked like they knew what they were doing in a new scheme. Brown is healthy, has shed about a dozen pounds, the D-linemen and other backers are healthy, too, and first-year defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo has gone to great lengths to simplify amid great reviews from his players. The early returns have been encouraging. They allowed just 3.4 yards per rush in the preseason.

The Bengals get a lift when Ryan Glasgow plays his first game in 50 weeks.
The Bengals get a lift when Ryan Glasgow plays his first game in 50 weeks.

Plus, Glasgow says Eason, a veteran of 117 NFL games at defensive end, has allowed them just enough freedom within the confines of the defense to invigorate their games.

"The younger players have improved over the last one, two, three years. We're all excited about the group," Glasgow says. "There's a good feeling, no question. I think it speaks to competition. A rising tide raises all ships type of deal when the level of competition is ratcheted up."

Eason isn't a hype guy. He's got a Super Bowl ring from the Steelers, but you wouldn't know it. He played in Seattle, but doesn't know how many times or how his teams did. Twice. 0-2. But he could care less.

"It's all about what we do Sunday. I think we'll play smart, fast and physical. I think we'll be relentless," Eason says. "What it's going to come down to is how we do in our one-on-one battles. It's as simple as that. One-on-one and let the chips fall where they may."

Glasgow likes how Eason has set up the chips.

"He doesn't try to make you into a robot. He doesn't try to make everyone do the same thing," Glasgow says. "He wants you to be who you are as a player … It gives us freedom on some defensive line play, but still play disciplined in the defense and I think we appreciate that as a group."