Hours before being named to his second
After completing a sophomore season that included tying
"You get an opportunity to go play in the Pro Bowl, but when you're over there, learn from the others, learn from experienced players what makes their team good year after year after year,"
Atkins was the dutiful student, connecting with peers such as the Raiders'
"I asked them how they got there, what they did," Atkins said. "They gave me little tips about resting your body, film study and just making sure anything you do ... [that you] just try to perfect your craft and take mental reps."
Atkins, 24, appears to have taken the advice to heart. Atkins ranks fifth in the league in sacks (13), trailing only
Atkins also leads Cincinnati in quarterback pressures (35) and tackles for loss (13), posted a season-best 2.5 sacks in the team's 13-10 win Sunday over the
Atkins will be one of the bigger concerns for
"He's a good player," Flacco said. "We've been playing him for a few years now, and I think our guys on the [offensive line] would tell you that he's a very good player and they have a lot of respect for him."
At 6 feet and 300 pounds, Atkins does not have the prototypical size that NFL scouts covet, but Ravens center
"If you can play, you can play," Birk said. Atkins is "very strong, plays with great leverage, very quick. He slants, tries to get into gaps, does that well. Size is only relative to how much strength you have. He has a great amount of strength, plays with great leverage. So the prototype thing, that's more like scout talk. The guy can just flat out play, and that's obvious."
"I would venture to say that the difference between those sacks last year and the sacks this year is mental," said Dukes, a former
Atkins is part of a defensive front that has accounted for 38 of the Bengals' 44 sacks, second in the NFL. He is quick to share credit when asked about being the premier interior lineman in the league.
"It feels pretty good, but I have a good group of guys like [nose tackle]
Atkins is unlikely to break defensive end Coy Bacon's franchise record for sacks in a single season (22 in 1976) this year, but with one against the Ravens he would move into second place alone (Bengals defensive end Eddie Edwards had 13 sacks in 1983).
Atkins has worked hard to improve, and has achieved success that even he did not initially envision.
"Each year, I strive to get better and try to perfect things that I didn't do well last year," he said. "I try to carry that over from year to year. I am kind of surprised about the double-digit [sacks], but I work hard for it. I just have to thank the coaches and the players around me for helping me get there."