Most of the time when you start your first college or advanced course, you work into it – lecture sessions, maybe a quiz, then a test. In his first NFL regular-season game, Kyle Long starts with the final exam.
The Bears rookie right guard will be lined up opposite Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins, a first-team All-Pro who set a franchise record with 12.5 sacks last season and leads all NFL defensive tackles with 20 sacks over the past two seasons.
[RELATED: Bears' offensive chemistry growing]
The Bengals thought enough of Atkins to secure his services on Monday with a five-year extension worth a potential $55 million, of which $22 million will come to him over the next six months, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapaport. The reasoning was simple:
“The strength, leverage and quickness that Geno Atkins has are just crazy,” Comcast analyst Jim Miller told CSNChicago.com. “He’s non-stop. You watch him and you’ve got to have the best or near the best guard-center combination to deal with him.”
“Best guard-center combination” is what the Bears hoped they were building toward when they drafted Long with the No. 20 pick of this year’s first round. The Bengals move Atkins around inside, so he will not be lined up exclusively over Long.
But the rookie has made a distinct first impression on Atkins based solely on tape of Bears preseason games.
[MORE: Bears growing their own, but is it working?]
“He’s big and he’s physical, very aggressive and a strong player,” Atkins said. “And by watching him, you can tell he likes to get after D-linemen. He likes to get off, be aggressive and show his strength.”
Atkins may have been engaging in a bit of self-description there.
He was a Bengals fourth-round pick in 2010, No. 120 overall and 11 picks after the Bears selected defensive end Corey Wootton. The “problem” with Atkins was that he is 6-1, 300 pounds and was considered a ‘tweener as a defensive tackle: too big to be a one-gap penetrator, too small to be a two-gap wall.
He has turned out to be both penetrator and wall, and he never entirely forgave the NFL for overlooking him.
[RELATED: Too-old Bears now too young? Roster critics can't have it both ways]
“It was definitely motivation, people saying I’m undersized, didn’t have the motor to play in the league, that I wasn’t the prototypical size at 6-2, 6-3, weighing 315, 320,” Atkins said. “It was definitely motivation to prove I could play in this league at a high level.”
Proving it to a No. 1 draft choice on Sunday is part of his plan.