It's been roughly nine months since Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins suffered a season-ending ACL injury against the Miami Dolphins—just months after signing a $53 million contract with the team.
Well, the Bengals received some great news on Wednesday, as Atkins was activated from the physically unable to perform list, according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com:
Although two-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins has been activated from the physically unable to perform list (PUP) for Wednesday's 3 p.m. practice, don't look for him to get right into the heat of the action.
Atkins, who suffered an ACL tear Halloween night in Miami, is thought to be on a gradual program that secures him to play in the regular-season opener Sept. 7 in Baltimore, as well some of the later preseason games.
While the All-Pro defensive tackle may not be in line to jump immediately into the fray, he could be on track to suit up for the team's regular-season opener.
That notion certainly has the team excited.
After all, this is arguably the most disruptive defensive tackle in the NFL. During his last 16-game season in 2012, Atkins accumulated 53 tackles, 12.5 sacks and 4.0 forced fumbles while ranking first in efficiency at his position with a 73.6 rating, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
So, how did the Bengals organization react to his return?
Well, Atkins was the first to generate a reaction—even though there were no words involved—according to defensive line coach Jay Hayes, via a tweet from Jeremy Rauch of Fox 19:
However, Hayes let it be known that the team will not be taking any chances with the recently rehabbed defensive tackle, courtesy of a tweet from Erik Elken of ABC 22:
DL coach Jay Hayes said they'll have to be "smart" w/ Geno's return. Added there was "a gleam in (Geno's) eye" when he found out. #Bengals— Erik Elken (@Erik2245) July 30, 2014
Rounding out Hayes' comments via Twitter was Bengals beat writer Geoff Hobson, who relayed a statement that rings true regardless of Cincinnati's opponent:
Dline coach Jay Hayes: The rules change when Geno is in there— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) July 30, 2014
While Atkins puts up monstrous numbers as a pass-rusher, his dedication to stuffing the run has been noticeable over the past couple of seasons. Head coach Marvin Lewis spoke of his prowess in that area, via a tweet from Hobson:
Lewis: Atkins has grown in run game while becoming one of best rushing inside— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) July 30, 2014
The fact that Atkins is so disruptive in every aspect of the game makes him a fearsome sight across the line of scrimmage for any offensive lineman.
That same fact holds true for Bengals guard Clint Boling, who consistently faces the defensive tackle during practices. While Boling has become a very solid guard—Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave him an efficiency rating at 6.0 last season—he still wasn't too thrilled about facing Atkins again.
Jay Morrison of Cox Media Group tweeted the guard's reaction to Atkins' return:
#Bengals guard Clint Boling on Geno's return: "I'm probably the only guy in the build that's disappointed he's coming back."— Jay Morrison (@JayMorrisonCMG) July 30, 2014
Obviously, Boling thinks very highly of Atkins, and this tweet from Hobson solidifies that fact:
Boling: (Atkins) best I've faced in NFL— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) July 30, 2014
The return of Atkins comes at a perfect time for Cincinnati.
It's early enough to get him some limited reps during training camp and in the preseason without forcing him into action and risking a setback. Should Atkins be ready for the start of the season, he'll provide a much-needed boost for a difficult early schedule.
The Bengals open the season on the road against the Baltimore Ravens and then come home to face the Atlanta Falcons. With two difficult tests right out of the gate, Atkins' presence along Cincinnati's defensive line will be a welcome sight.
On Wednesday, Domata Peko summed it up best, via Hobson:
peko: I'm sure the entire city is happy Geno is back— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) July 30, 2014
The Bengals are in search of a fourth consecutive playoff appearance and are aiming to finally get over the hump with a postseason victory. With Atkins in the fold early in the season, the chances of the team accomplishing those feats dramatically increase.