Bengals fans remember when Justin Smith, the team's first-round pick in 2001, played on a Bengals defensive line that eventually consisted of current players like Domata Peko and Robert Geathers. Bengals fans also remember the day that they allowed Smith to leave Cincinnati and sign with the 49ers.
Smith, who has been nothing short of fantastic for the Niners, had good things to say, though, about his former team during media day.
"We didn't win a ton of games there, but I learned a lot about football from Dick LeBeau to Marvin Lewis and Jay Hayes and those types of guys that I learned from," Smith said. "It was definitely part of my growing process."
The defensive line is just as talented now as it ever has been. Players like Thornton were replaced by Geno Atkins while guys like Carlos Dunlap and Michael Johnson have taken Smith's place and likely Geathers' place in 2013. Atkins has emerged as one of the top interior defensive lineman in the NFL and both Johnson and Dunlap have proven themselves as talented pass rushers from the edge. Smith is impressed, especially with Atkins.
"It's kind of fun. Robert and Peko are the veteran guys in that locker room now," Smith said. "You look at Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap and the other guys they have, they have an impressive defense.
"I think everybody learns something from everybody (that comes) before them a little bit. There's no invention of the wheel on that one. It's a good group. You know that. They've got the right mix of players in there. Geno is really good. He's got a bright future."
The Bengals defensive line was largely the reason the Bengals finished the 2012 regular season with 51 sacks, which puts them in second place behind the Rams and Broncos, who tied at first with 52 sacks. The line accounted for 42 of those sacks and Atkins and Johnson had 12.5 and 11.5 respectively.
The defensive line has been the strength of the Bengals playoff teams over the past two seasons and will likely continue to be the strength of the team in the future, as long as they can keep players like Atkins, Dunlap and Johnson in stripes, that is.