CINCINNATI — Geno Atkins made a brief appearance in the Cincinnati Bengals locker room Wednesday, but he declined to answer questions about his season-ending ACL injury before making a hurried, yet slow getaway on crutches.
The visit happened so quickly, Atkins’ presence was barely noticed.
The Bengals hope the same can be said of his absence.
“I’m going to do whatever I can to make sure other teams don’t notice that Geno is out,” said second-year defensive tackle Devon Still.
“I’ve been training for this moment, for this opportunity, and now it’s here,” added Brandon Thompson, another second-year defensive tackle who is listed as the starter on the team’s depth chart with Atkins lost for the season.
“We’re not going to cry and climb in a hole,” defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said. “We’ve got some other good players in the locker room, and we pride ourselves on playing good team defense. It’s a challenge and an opportunity.”
Still suffered a dislocated elbow three weeks ago in Detroit, leaving Thompson and Domata Peko as the team’s only healthy defensive tackles who are familiar with Zimmer’s defense.
The team signed former Miami defensive tackle Kheeston Randall on Tuesday, and defensive ends Wallace Gilberry and Margus Hunt also are likely to move inside at times. Hunt played almost exclusively inside Thursday night in Miami after Atkins left the game.
“Most of the stuff goes with every position you play, but still it’s a lot tougher inside because the guards are a lot shorter so I have to really focus on staying low and getting off the blocks,” the 6-foot-8 Hunt said. “I thought I did pretty good. I had some good push even though I had two guys on me. If you occupy two guys, other guys have single blocks, so they have to make something happen.”
In addition to losing Atkins, the Bengals also are without starting cornerback Leon Hall and safety Taylor Mays for the rest season. The team has placed eight players on injured reserve, all of whom play defense.
“You can’t really sit around and suck your thumb and worry about the guys you don’t have anymore,” safety Chris Crocker said. “It’s just about going forward. I think we’ll be fine. Obviously those guys will be sorely missed, but we still have a lot of good football players in this locker room.”
Still, a second-round pick who was the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year his senior year at Penn State, played in eight games last year and appeared in the first seven games this year before suffering the elbow injury in Detroit.
Thompson, a third-round pick, has played in all nine games this year with 26 tackles and 1.5 sacks after being on the field for 22 snaps his rookie season.
“Obviously he’s not Geno,” Zimmer said when asked about Thompson. “But Geno wasn’t Geno when he first started either.
“And Geno only played half the time,” Zimmer added. “He didn’t play every snap. We had other guys playing, and it’s not like we were (crappy) those other times.”
The Bengals head to Baltimore ranked fifth in the NFL in yards allowed (325) and sixth in points (18.4). It’s going to be difficult to keep those rankings up with all of the players going down, but an encouraging sign is an emerging offense that has shown it is ready to carry the team the way the defense did earlier in the year when it was healthy.
“The defense had our backs in a couple of games,” wide receiver A.J. Green said. “Now we’ve got to step it up a little bit.”