Most Bengals fans recognize Geno Atkins as the human bowling ball on the defensive line. The 300-pound behemoth defensive tackle is a huge problem for any team planning to stop the Cincinnati defense. He’s the man that needs special attention and frequent double-teams. But Atkins also carries a special blood condition known as the sickle cell trait. Even though he has the abnormality in his system, he’ll suit up for battle against the Broncos.
Many fans of the game will remember Steelers safety Ryan Clark. In 2011, he sat out a playoff game in Denver, due to the high altitude and thin air. He also sat out a game the following year because of losing his gallbladder and spleen. That situation was caused from playing a game against the Broncos, at Mile High, with the sickle cell trait in 2007. Although Clark was medically cleared to play in Denver’s thin air without any complications, the Steelers took the precautionary measure of deactivating him for any games played in Denver.
Anyone carrying the trait doesn’t have grave health problems that arise from the condition. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Atkins has worked with Cincinnati Children’s Hospital to help raise awareness for sickle cell. For the most part, sickle cell trait isn’t life threatening. But during strenuous exercise or in high altitudes, they can be prone to dehydration and trouble breathing. Proper diet, rest, and adequate cool down time can help with managing the condition under those circumstances.
Atkins doesn’t talk much. He’s a quiet man who does the bulk of his talking on the field. Atkins currently ranks second in the NFL among interior defensive linemen in sacks (10.0) and has been the most disruptive player on the Bengals defense. He’s also the first Bengals player to have multiple sack seasons. He led the team with 12.5 in 2012. Part of his success is due to a rotation, which allows him a chance to rest. Brandon Thompson or Pat Sims usually gets substituted into his spot.
“I asked Geno, you remember much?” Lewis acknowledged. “He said, ‘Yeah, you all left me out there 15 plays in a row.’ And that was his second time ever starting. It’s something we are conscious of. We will be conscious of him with it on Monday.”
Being such a fierce competitor, Atkins wasn’t overly concerned with the air or how it affected him. He knows that he has to take certain precautions, but he doesn’t let that interfere with the intensity of his approach to the game.
“I remember just running to the bench to get a tank of oxygen because I was just dead tired,” Atkins admitted. “That was the first time I felt fatigued, tired and couldn’t really catch my breath as if we were in Cincinnati. You are still able to play at a high level, as long as you are aware of it and take the proper steps.”
The Bengals staff will be monitoring Atkins to make sure he’s able to play at the level he wants and they need. But his health is the main issue.
“Basically the way he rotates anyway it’s not that big of a deal particularly at that position,” Lewis said. “He’s aware, we’re aware.”
The Broncos may not have been aware of Atkins’ sickle cell trait, but they’re well aware of his defensive presence.
[Feature Photo by Al Behrman/Associated Press]