As a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers for the first seven years of his NFL career, G Willie Colon has seen the AFC North division rival Cincinnati Bengals develop into the formidable opponents that they are today.
"I've watched that team go from a bottom-of-the-barrel team where nobody respected them to now they're a legit contender," Colon said. "You've got to respect their progress. They paid for a defense and they got a defense. Those guys are playing high-motor, they're strong and physical, and they're getting after the quarterback."
And no one on the Bengals plays with a higher motor, is stronger and more physical, or gets after the quarterback more than their fourth-year DT, Geno Atkins.
"Ooof, it's about as big a challenge as it gets," head coach Rex Ryan said this week. "The Atkins kid is becoming a household name, having 12.5 sacks last year, a Pro Bowl guy. And he earns that reputation. He really plays hard."
The 6'1", 303-pound tackle out of Georgia has picked up right where he left off last year, as he's compiled four sacks through the first seven games.
Assuming C Nick Mangold plays (he's listed as questionable with a rib injury but Rex said today, "He's fine"), it will be up to him and the two men on either side of him, Colon and Brian Winters, to keep our Geno out of harm's reach from their Geno.
"He's quick, he's got good strength, he uses his leverage well, plays good technique," Mangold said of Atkins, "so it's going to be a battle for us. He's a heck of a player that's going to cause us to make sure we know where he is at all times."
Winters described Atkins as an athletic player with a great motor that just doesn't stop, and as anybody who has followed the Jets this year could tell you, those attributes define DT Sheldon Richardson as well.
So to prepare for the difficult task, our third-round rookie, Winters, has been requesting to face off against our first-round rookie, Richardson, during 1-on-1's throughout this week's practices.
"I feel like they play similar," Winters said, "so I've been asking to play against him just to get a look on it and get a feel for what he does."
Of course, no one on our roster has a better feel for what Atkins does than Willie Colon, and he labeled the 25-year-old defensive tackle as "probably one of the best interior guys in the league right now."
"His ability to play fast, he's disruptive, extremely strong," Colon said of the problems Atkins poses. "He's one of those guys who if you don't bring your hard hat, he could disrupt a whole game for you."
Colon speaks from experience. In four career games against the Steelers, this season excluded, Atkins had four sacks.
When we faced a Patriots team lst Sunday without 6'2", 325-pound DT Vince Wilfork, we were able to capitalize, running between the tackles and, as OC Marty Mornhinweg said, "moving forward" en route to the 30-27 overtime victory.
This Sunday, set to face Atkins and the Cincinnati defense, there will likely be a change of plans. "I've watched their progression over the years, developing into a solid ballclub," Colon said. "And credit to [head coach] Marvin Lewis. He's been through the dark times with that team and now he's arrived to the point where they can step in any stadium and they can knock the walls down. So we have to be able to be at our A-game. It's going to be a hostile environment."