When speaking on superior defensive interior lineman play, Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer can’t help but name drop one of his former players: Geno Atkins.
The eight-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle was a recent cap casualty after 11 seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals — where Zimmer served as defensive coordinator from 2008-13.
Atkins has been a free-agent rumor lightning rod this offseason, with many strikes sounding off on him joining the Vikings.
The most recent comes from ESPN’s Bill Barnwell, coincidentally after Zimmer dropped Atkins’ name in comparing what he’d like to see from a rookie lineman.
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Barnwell Tabs Atkins to Cheap Pre-June 1 Signing
Minnesota is awaiting another $7.94 million in cap space following June 1, when Kyle Rudolph’s release and cap savings are finalized.
Barnwell tabbed Atkins signing with the Vikings as a move that could come before June 1 on a one-year, $2.5 million contract.
Here’s what he wrote:
You may see a theme of players reuniting with their former coaches in this piece. Atkins’ breakout years came when Mike Zimmer was the defensive coordinator in Cincinnati, and the Vikings head coach could use some pass-rushing help in Minnesota. Atkins was anonymous last year as the Bengals reduced his role in the lineup, but the 33-year-old is only two seasons removed from a 10-sack campaign. Atkins would slot in as an interior rusher on passing downs as part of a rotation with run-stuffer Michael Pierce.
Atkins, a foundational player that helped Cincinnati make five consecutive playoff appearances from 2011-15, has 75.5 total sacks in his career as a potential future Hall of Famer.
During training camp last season, Atkins suffered a torn labrum and opted to rest through Week 5 and play in a rotational role before deciding to undergo surgery in mid-December. Playing a full 16-game season in 2019, Atkins produced 53 pressures — more than any Vikings interior lineman in 2020 — to earn his eighth Pro Bowl appearance.
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Zimmer Sees Atkins in 6th-Round Rookie
During the first weekend of rookie OTAs, Zimmer was asked about what he’s liked out of Pittsburg defensive tackle Jaylen Twyman, drafted in the sixth round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
Twyman opted out of the 2020 season but tallied 41 tackles and 10.5 sacks in 13 games as a sophomore in 2019, becoming the first interior defensive lineman to lead the team since Aaron Donald in 2013.
“He had some big sack numbers [in 2019], and he’s athletic,” Zimmer said. “The three-technique position we’re looking for guys that have the twitch and the acceleration.”
Twyman possesses an explosive first step and strength that could help him excel at the NFL level despite being an undersized lineman — a similar struggle Atkins overcame as a fourth-round pick in 2010.
“When I had Geno Atkins and some of those guys that are a little bit smaller size guys, we look for nickel pass rushers, and they grow into the spot,” Zimmer said, referring to a role as a pass-rushing interior lineman.
Atkins could still threaten on passing downs while also mentoring Twyman and the other Vikings defensive linemen on a budget deal where he could reunite with Zimmer for one more go-around.