Jordan Shipley's 63-yard punt return late in the game set up Cincinnati's only score. (AP photo)
CANTON, Ohio - Two Bengals rookies found out Sunday night that NFL speed can be their speed.
Wide receiver Jordan Shipley, the third-round pick from Texas, set up the only Bengals touchdown with his 63-yard punt return with 1:34 left in the 16-7 loss to the Cowboys. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the fourth-rounder from Georgia, led the team with six tackles and added a sack and three tackles for loss.
"It was a middle return; the guys did a great job blocking it," said Shipley, who made one hellacious cut in the middle of the field to take the last 25 yards or so down the left sideline. "It opened up some lanes for me. I saw some green grass and made some cuts."
At least on this night, the 290-pound Atkins proved he's not too small when the pads come on. That had been the fear of the draftnicks. Now after he had been a whirlwind during the May and June drill, he's still getting to the quarterback now that there is contact.
"I went speed and back inside," Atkins said of his sack. "I'm at a good weight right now. I feel like I can still move. I still like I have my agility and my strength.
"I was definitely interested to see what the speed would be like. It's a lot faster. But if you go hard in practice, you kind of get acclimated to it so in a game there's not too much of a difference."
Shipley, who also caught two balls for 17 yards, figures the pro game is about a step faster if Sunday night is any gauge.
"I think the main thing is the guys are so football savvy," Shipley said. "Everybody knows exactly what to do on every single play. It's definitely good to get out there and handle the ball a couple of times. For me it was a good experience because I learned I've got a lot of room to improve, especially just on learning the offense."
Shipley was also thinking about his catch on third-and-10 late in the second quarter. He caught it across the middle near the first-down mark, but gave up ground to try and get more and ended up a yard short.
"I should have probably spun real quick, tried to dive," he said. "That's what I'm talking about. Obviously I haven't played football in a long time, so you kind of get back into the swing of it."
There was some debate if Shipley should have fair caught his first punt return, but he revealed his philosophy.
"It's easier to say, but if you slip around and get 10 or 12 yards, it's definitely good for field position," he said. "But I think the main thing is if you catch it, make a move, and get tackled, you're not any worse off than if you had fair caught it."
The main thing for Atkins is he's playing at the same weight in college and, so far, so good.
"It gives me a little bit more confidence knowing I can get in there with NFL players," he said. "It's a good start and you just try to get better as the weeks go on and on."