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Question mark on Geno Atkins' return

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There have been multiple suggestions when Geno Atkins could eventually return. Unfortunately, when he returns isn't necessarily the most important question. Will he ever be the same?

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Geno Atkins, the monstrous anchor of Cincinnati's once impressive defensive line now poses so many question marks that the Riddler shouts, "hold everything. Let me regroup here." Michael Johnson. Gone. Carlos Dunlap, making the move to right defensive end, won't have someone like Johnson at the other end. Margus Hunt... show us what you have -- for there's $3.671 million and a valuable second-round pick banking on the hope that one athletic freak can replace another. Wallace Gilberry is as reliable as a favorite restaurant, pub, or Kings Island ride... usually coming through.

But Atkins.

What's the story on him? Where is the recovery? When is his eventual return?

As is usually the case with these type of injuries, after Atkins suffered his ACL tear against the Miami Dolphins last year, it left a devastating shoulder-shrug on when he'll return. In February, someone said that he's on pace for training camp at "some point". Those expectations were significantly dialed back in May, with ESPN's Coley Harvey saying that it was "anyone's guess" as to whether Atkins would be ready for the regular season. The. Regular. Season. Maybe that's more of an existential remark. He'll be "ready" physically, but the mental hurdle is... yesh. But isn't that sooo Cincinnati? Reward a player with a big contract, only to frustratingly watch him become a durability issue (See: Votto, Joey).

Prior to the game against Miami, Atkins admitted to playing through knee issues that year. "It's really more mental than physical," said Atkins last October. "You are favoring (the other knee)." By the time Cincinnati traveled to Miami for the doomed episode of "This is your life, Bengals fan," the knee wasn't giving him a second thought.

The massive double-doors that marked Atkins' season, would close with a humbling rumble against Miami. With over four minutes remaining in the second quarter, Atkins was a TKO on the turf. Not quite knocked out, but you knew he was done for the evening. After the team's medical staff examined him for several minutes, Atkins was helped off the field by teammates where he was later carted back to the locker room. He hasn't been on the field since.

Cincinnati would go on to lose the game as a direct result of Atkins' injury. Just an opinion. It wasn't the usual Cincinnati "didn't come to play" lifelessness that's usually slaps them across the brow. More like an-all-encompassing distraction to see how badly Atkins' injury really was.

There's another question that exists here... more important, even.

OK, Atkins is recovered and once again a bulldog at a dog kennel under the bridge. How quickly he recovers could be an insignificant question compared to this: "Will he ever be the same?" Since we're not masters of time travel (despite watching every episode of every iteration of Stargate), we can't say. Yet in the end, it's the most relevant when the summer breeze leads to it's first Autumn chill.

We really don't need to point out his impact as a pass rusher -- he's actually as disruptive, if not more, as a run defender (per ESPN).

Whenever Atkins was off the field last season -- both pre- and post-injury -- the Bengals allowed opposing offenses 4.3 yards per carry, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That's a high pace that exceeded the NFL's combined rushing average for the year of 4.17 yards per carry.

What makes the 4.3 figure even more alarming is the fact that Cincinnati gave up just 3.7 yards per rush when Atkins was on the field in 2013. That's a difference of 0.6 yards when he was in a game compared to when he wasn't. That might not sound like a lot, but add up all the yards the Bengals gave up when Atkins wasn't playing and you can see the impact.

Will he be that man in 2014? Thus we do what all good sports fans do: Twiddle our thumbs and wait. Maybe training camp. Maybe the regular season.