Why Devon Still Is the Next Face of the Cincinnati Bengals Defense

Matt GrayContributor IMay 7, 2012

STATE COLLEGE, PA - NOVEMBER 12:  Devon Still #71 of the Penn State Nittany Lions celebrates after sacking Taylor Martinez #3 (not pictured) of the Nebraska Cornhuskers during the game on November 12, 2011 at Beaver Stadium in State College, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals may have surprised a number of fans when they took Devon Still in the second round, but the former Nittany Lion has all the tools to be the next stalwart of the Bengals defense.

Still improved significantly in 2011 to be named Big Ten defensive player of the year following two seasons plagued by injury. 

Pegged by many as a late first-round pick, Still, like many of the Bengals' acquisitions, was a steal at 53rd overall.

At 6'5" 303 lbs, Still has all the size and strength to be a force in the NFL. A physical and vocal leader at Penn State, Still dominated through roughly 60 snaps a game. However, the young DT is likely to see less than half of that amount in Cincinnati, and will be forced to compete for his spot right away.

Given the amount of adversity Still faced at Penn State, it should come easy for him. A torn anterior cruciate ligament put an end to his freshman year, followed swiftly by a broken ankle in his sophomore campaign. Still overcame his injuries to emerge as a leader on defense in 2011, but that wasn't the end of the drama.

The highly publicized events that lead to the departure of Joe Paterno, and his subsequent passing hit Still and his teammates harder than any injury could, but Still says that it helped him understand "How to face adversity".

“We were hit so hard, blindsided by it, and we were able to make it through. I think that helped us all grow as men" Still says.

The simple fact that the Nittany Lions laced up their boots and took to the field seems astonishing considering the media storm that engulfed the school in 2011. For Still, this was yet another opportunity to throw in the towel, but as he did in previous years, the Nittany Lions captain lead by example, overcoming the obstacles and putting together a dominant senior year.

Devon Still's ability was perhaps best summarised by his former Coach, Joe Paterno: "In his own quiet way, [Devon's] a guy that leads by performance," Paterno said. "And he's one of the guys that right now is going to have to come to the front and pick up a couple of guys that have not had the kind of success he's had, or paid the price he's paid to be good."

Still is not going to be forced to the front in Cincinnati, but if his time at Penn State is anything to go by, this young defensive tackle will be eager to show that his long and difficult journey to the NFL was not in vain. 

With the Bengals Pro Bowl sack leader Geno Atkins a certain starter on opening day, Still's path to a starting spot will run through Domata Peko and Pat Sims.

Peko is arguably one of the Bengals' most important players on defense. His stats may not back up this claim, but his real value comes through his positive locker room presence and leadership abilities. He is one of the few veterans remaining on an increasingly youthful defense, and plays a key role in defining the Cincinnati locker room culture.

However, the torch must eventually be passed and Still could be the man to step up. Pat Sims' days in Cincinnati could be numbered following the addition of Still and Brandon Thompson, and his one-year deal does little to suggest a vote of confidence. 

Still will contribute to Mike Zimmer's defensive rotation right away, and has every opportunity to move up the depth chart. With the likes of Domata Peko and Geno Atkins to learn from, Still is in a great position to make something special of himself. 

For a team that is often characterised as being a home for the NFL's outcasts and troublemakers, Devon Still brings a strength of character and a determination that will go a long way towards redefining the Cincinnati Bengals.