Morning Stripes: Bengals' life without Geno

With his surgery still a few days away, Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins has spent part of the past week at Paul Brown Stadium preparing.

He was there Wednesday morning before the team's first full practice since it lost two important things at Miami last Thursday. In addition to losing that game in overtime, 22-20, the Bengals also lost Atkins for the season when he tore an ACL trying to fight off a blocker during a first-half running play.

As reporters checked in on Atkins to see if he finally wanted to say something about his injury, he politely shook his head before walking off on his pair of crutches. He simply wasn't ready.

It might be a while before he is. That's understandable.

After all, Atkins has been a young player on the rise for the franchise. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, the fourth-year University of Georgia product was signed to a massive contract extension the week the season began, and was being viewed as arguably the best member of the entire defense. Opposing offensive coordinators respected him, constantly throwing double-teams his way and making it their mission not to let him sack their quarterbacks. The tactic worked some early, but Atkins still had six sacks, including one in last Thursday's game.

Life without Geno officially began Friday when the Bengals returned home from the painful trip to South Florida. It will continue until training camp begins next summer, at least.

We start off this Thursday's Morning Stripes by taking a look at life for the Bengals without their big star. As much as his teammates hate to admit it, the show must go on:

  • The Associated Press' Joe Kay has this longer look at what life without Atkins is like for the Bengals. Defensive end Wallace Gilberry may have best summarized how much Atkins' departure not only from the line, but from the locker room, will mean to the rest of the defense. Not only are they missing a good player, but they'll be missing "a friend," "a hell of a teammate," and "a hell of an athlete."

  • Bengals.com's Geoff Hobson looks a little deeper at defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer's experience juggling injuries in this story. He had to do it in 2008 when he first arrived. He had to do it again in 2010 and even in 2011 when cornerback Leon Hall was lost with another season-ending injury. This year, Hall and Atkins are among eight defenders -- four who were key contributors -- who are on the injured reserve. In addition to looking at Zimmer's past, Hobson takes a look at a few of the supposed changes Zimmer could make to account for Atkins' absence. That includes bringing defensive end Margus Hunt into the interior of the line and maybe dropping outside linebacker James Harrison to defensive end.

  • Finally, we turn to the Cincinnati Enquirer, where Paul Dehner Jr. has this story about how important these next two games are for the Bengals. The team currently sits in first in the AFC North and could all but wrap up the division with wins over the Baltimore Ravens this weekend and the Cleveland Browns the next. After visiting Baltimore, Cincinnati hosts Cleveland next week in the teams' second meeting of the season. The Browns currently hold a potential tiebreak with their 17-6 Week 4 win over the Bengals. Cincinnati knows this two-week stretch ahead of the bye week is a crucial one.