2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Bengals' D-line blossoms into one of best

By JOE KAY - AP Sports Writer
    2013-01-03 13:43

CINCINNATI (AP) - Michael Johnson towers over blockers at 6-foot-7. At 6-foot-1, Geno Atkins often gets dwarfed on the line. Domata Peko is gregarious. Carlos Dunlap tends to cut off interviews after a few questions.

The Bengals' defensive line is an eclectic mix of players from far different backgrounds with very different personalities and body types. Together, they formed one of the NFL's best units this season, one of the main reasons Cincinnati is in the playoffs again.

The Bengals set a club record with 51 sacks this season, 40 of them coming from a line that is more of a melting pot than anything else.

``We're very different,'' Dunlap said. ``Mike's from Selma, Ala. I'm from Charleston, S.C. Geno's from Fort Lauderdale. You've got a whole bunch of guys from miles and miles away from each other, probably a 10-hour drive to get to each destination.

``But when we're in this locker room, we're a few feet away as we are on the field and in sync with one another. I hope this young group can stay together and go on for a long time and be part of something special.''

They're having a special season, one of the main reasons the Bengals have reached the playoffs as a wild card for the second straight season. It's also one of the main reasons they think they can knock off the Texans on Saturday in Houston and get their first playoff win since 1990.

These guys know how to get to the quarterback.

Atkins led all interior NFL linemen with 12 1/2 sacks and was voted a Pro Bowl starter for the first time. Johnson had 11 1/2 sacks, giving Cincinnati its first pair of players with double-digit sacks totals since 1981, when the Bengals reached the Super Bowl for the first time.

The reserves have done well, too. Wallace Gilberry has 6 1/2 sacks. Robert Geathers has 3.

The Texans' offense struggled down the stretch, contributing to three losses in the last four games. Houston scored 16 or fewer points in those losses. If the Texans can't slow Cincinnati's front four, they're in trouble.

``They've been so good because they're very talented up front,'' Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``They can pressure well with the four guys or adding any number of guys to it. It's a unique challenge for us.''

It starts with four linemen who seem to have little in common except a commitment to getting to the quarterback.

Two of them arrived together. Dunlap was a second-round pick in 2010, while Atkins slipped to the fourth round because of his lack of stature. Atkins quickly developed into one of the league's best, able to use his low center of gravity to push his way into the backfield.

Dunlap was more of a project, known for wanting to do things his way. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer made him understand the need to change.

``I figured one of us was going to lose the fight and it wasn't going to be me,'' Zimmer said. ``They're much easier to mold the way you want them molded when they're young rookies. Michael was not as bad as Carlos. Carlos was a guy that had to be pushed, confronted, threatened at times, not let play at times.

``Either they figure it out or they don't figure it out, one way or the other. Both those two guys are smart guys. I do think they understand that you're trying to help them as opposed to trying to ridicule them or something like that.''

Johnson, a third-round pick in 2009, had a reputation for not playing hard the entire time. The Bengals moved him between end and linebacker earlier in this career. Once they decided to use his quickness and height at end, he began to blossom in his role.

It helps to have Dunlap on the other end, Atkins getting a push up the middle and reserves who can spell them during the game and keep them fresh.

``It's not just one guy,'' Johnson said. ``It's a collective effort of us being in our pass-rush lanes and being in the right place, and it just comes to you like that. And it comes in bunches. Let's see if we can set some sort of playoff record for sacks. (We'll) work on that next.''

Peko is the oldest member of the line, finishing his seventh season. He's also the leader - Peko organized voluntary workouts for the defense during the NFL lockout before last season.

The defense has given Cincinnati a chance to go back to Houston for the second year in a row. The Bengals lost 31-10 in the wild card round last year in Houston. Zimmer thinks his crew is better this time.

The defense has scored a touchdown in each of the last three games on fumble or interception returns. Cincinnati has held opponents to 13 points or fewer in six of the last eight games.

``Boy, that's incredible in the National Football League,'' Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

Dunlap likes to think they're just getting started after taking a few years to come together.

``It can't be sunny days all the time,'' Dunlap said. ``After the rain is the rainbow - that's what my mom would tell you. Right now, we're on the better side of the rain and we want to keep that going and try to find that gold at the end of the rainbow.''

---

NOTES: K Josh Brown was chosen as the AFC's special teams player of the month. He was signed on Dec. 6 to replace the injured Mike Nugent and made 11 of his 12 field goal tries, the only miss on a 56-yarder in Pittsburgh. ... S Chris Crocker didn't participate in practice on Thursday. He's got a bruised thigh.

---

AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken in Houston contributed to this report.

---

Online: http://pro32.ap.org/poll and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Fantasy Football Player Notes RSS FeedPLAYER NOTES

LaMichael JamesJul 21 11:46a

San Francisco 49ers RB LaMichael James could have trouble making the roster this year, according to ESPN.com's Bill Williamson. Williamson believes RB Frank Gore, RB Carlos Hyde, RB Marcus [ More ]

Ray-Ray ArmstrongJul 21 11:42a

St. Louis Rams LB Ray Ray Armstrong has impressed coaches and was already poised to push for an expanded role before LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar's arrest. Armstrong could have an [ More ]

Jairus ByrdJul 21 11:12a

New Orleans Saints FS Jairus Byrd's (back) recovery from back surgery has gone as expected. However, it's unknown if he'll be limited at the start of training camp.

Christine MichaelJul 21 11:05a

Seattle Seahawks RB Christine Michael's work this spring has done nothing to dismiss the thought that he will receive regular carries this season. It's still not known how many [ More ]

Odell Beckham Jr.Jul 21 11:03a

New York Giants rookie WR Odell Beckham Jr. is viewed as an outside receiver despite standing just 5-foot-11, and he might push WR Rueben Randle for the No. 2 job opposite WR Victor Cruz.

Rashad JenningsJul 21 11:02a

New York Giants RB Rashad Jennings is still considered the lead running back, despite RB David Wilson's (neck) clearance for contact.

Justin HunterJul 21 11:02a

Tennessee Titans WR Justin Hunter is drawing big comparisons to retired WR Randy Moss from WR Michael Preston. 'Not only is the sky the limit, I think he's going [ More ]

Jeremy HillJul 21 10:44a

Cincinnati Bengals RB Jeremy Hill could split carries with RB Giovani Bernard this upcoming season and receive over 200 carries, in the opinion of Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson.

Marcell DareusJul 21 10:42a

Buffalo Bills DT Marcell Dareus has drawn the ire of Bills general manager Doug Whaley after reporting to camp out of shape. 'It's cause for concern,' Whaley said. 'You [ More ]

Demetrius HarrisJul 21 10:41a

Kansas City Chiefs TE Demetrius Harris looks like a player ready to contribute this season, according to head coach Andy Reid. Meanwhile, Adam Teicher of ESPN.com believes Harris could [ More ]

Dante RosarioJul 21 10:36a

Chicago Bears TE Dante Rosario is the leading candidate to be the team's No. 2 tight end this year, according to Larry Mayer of ChicagoBears.com. TE Matthew Mulligan, TE [ More ]

David WilsonJul 21 10:32a

New York Giants RB David Wilson (neck) said that he has been cleared for everything.

Joseph RandleJul 21 10:30a

Dallas Cowboys RB Joseph Randle has the inside track to win the No. 3 running back job, and would likely take over the every-down role if something were to happen to RB DeMarco Murray.

Joe McKnightJul 21 08:22a

Kansas City Chiefs RB Joe McKnight (knee) had arthroscopic knee surgery after minicamp ended last month and is close to returning to practice.

Chad HenneJul 21 03:12a

Although the Jacksonville Jaguars coaching staff is still high on QB Chad Henne, coach Gus Bradley said QB Blake Bortles could start a preseason game. It would be late [ More ]

Dee MillinerJul 20 11:42p

New York Jets CB Dee Milliner can become a shutdown corner in the NFL, according to head coach Rex Ryan. 'I think he's got a chance to be,' Ryan [ More ]

Nigel BradhamJul 20 11:32p

Buffalo Bills LB Brandon Spikes started at middle linebacker Sunday, July 20, in place of LB Kiko Alonso (knee). LB Keith Rivers and LB Nigel Bradham started alongside Spikes [ More ]

Chris SneeJul 20 09:52p

New York Giants OG Chris Snee (elbow) will announce his retirement Monday, July 21, according to ESPN.com's Dan Graziano.

EJ ManuelJul 20 09:52p

Buffalo Bills QB EJ Manuel went 4-for-4 on passes to WR Sammy Watkins during team drills Sunday, July 20.

S. HendersonJul 20 09:42p

Updating a previous report, Buffalo Bills OT Seantrel Henderson (hip) suffered a hip injury Sunday, July 20, and his status going forward is not yet known.

Marquise GoodwinJul 20 09:32p

Buffalo Bills WR Marquise Goodwin (undisclosed) missed practice Sunday, July 20, after dealing with a medical issue. He is expected to return to practice tomorrow, according to Joe Buscaglia of WGR Sports Radio 550.

Marcell DareusJul 20 06:22p

Updating a previous report, Buffalo Bills DT Marcell Dareus failed his conditioning test, which is why he was put on the inactive list.

Bradie EwingJul 20 05:42p

Jacksonville Jaguars FB Bradie Ewing will battle FB Will Ta'ufo'ou for the starting fullback spot in camp.

Storm JohnsonJul 20 05:32p

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Storm Johnson will enter camp as the fourth running back, but the team is excited about his potential. 'Storm is going to run at the same [ More ]

Jordan TodmanJul 20 05:32p

Jacksonville Jaguars RB Jordan Todman is viewed as a change-of-pace back, along with RB Denard Robinson, according to offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch. 'Those two guys are truly change-of-pace backs,' [ More ]

Michael BowieJul 20 05:02p

Seattle Seahawks OT Michael Bowie has had an uneven spring with coaches saying he could have been in better shape. He'll compete with OT Justin Britt at right tackle.

Tharold SimonJul 20 04:52p

Seattle Seahawks DT Jordan Hill, DT Jesse Williams and CB Tharold Simon will take on larger roles in their second season in 2014. Hill could be a potential starter in nickel packages.

Zach MillerJul 20 04:52p

Seattle Seahawks TE Luke Willson will be TE Zach Miller's backup this season, but he's likely to see increased playing time.

Jo-Lonn DunbarJul 20 03:12p

St. Louis Rams LB Jo-Lonn Dunbar and NBA free-agent Donte Greene were arrested Sunday, July 20, for fighting with each other outside the Dream Nightclub in Miami Beach, Fla. [ More ]

Tom CoughlinJul 20 10:32a

New York Giants owner John Mara said head coach Tom Coughlin is not on the hot seat, but also added that Coughlin has not earned the right to leave [ More ]

D.J. WilliamsJul 20 03:42a

The New England Patriots have signed free-agent TE Nate Byham (Buccaneers). Byham will likely compete with TEs Michael Hoomanawanui and D.J. Williams for a chance to back up Rob Gronkowski.

Winston GuyJul 19 10:22p

Jacksonville Jaguars SS Winston Guy is considered the leading candidate for the starting free safety job but will have to compete with FS Josh Evans (foot) for the job during training camp.

RSS Feeds

NFL News:
 
Player Notes:
 
Forum Posts:
 

© 2014 RealTime Fantasy Sports, Inc.
Email Us  ·  Call Us 636.447.1170  ·  Lost Password
Advertising represented by USA Today Sports Media Group