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Bengals' Atkins recognized as one of NFL's best

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Bengals' Atkins recognized as one of NFL's best

CINCINNATI (AP) Geno Atkins gets a lot of attention every time an opponent watches film trying to figure out how to contain the Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle. His first selection as a Pro Bowl starter shows what they think of him.

The undersized lineman is considered one of the NFL's best.

The third-year player was chosen as a Pro Bowl starter on Wednesday, his first such honor. He was an alternate last season. He and receiver A.J. Green were voted as starters, while four other Bengals are alternates.

There wasn't much talk about the 6-foot-1 Atkins when the Bengals took him in the fourth round in 2010. He leads all NFL interior linemen with 19 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons, including 12 1/2 this year.

``I want to get better and show the world that even though I am 6-foot-1, 300 pounds, I can still be the best,'' Atkins said.

His size worked against him when he came out of Georgia. The NFL prefers taller linemen with longer arms. Atkins has learned how to use his size to his advantage, getting low and making a push that's hard to blunt.

He's become a dominating player.

``He's got (12 1/2) sacks and that doesn't even tell the story,'' offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth said. ``The real story is people turning on the film and seeing play-in and play-out how he disrupts plays. Sometimes people just look at sacks and say he's disruptive. The truth is he's far more disruptive than just sacks.

``Week to week, he takes over. Stats don't tell you everything.''

Atkins is the most impressive player on a defense that has carried the Bengals to the playoffs for a second straight season. Cincinnati (9-6) clinched a wild card spot with a 13-10 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Atkins had two sacks and was regularly in the Steelers' backfield.

The Bengals finish the regular season at home on Sunday against AFC North champion Baltimore (10-5). Cincinnati will open the playoffs on the road against the Ravens, the Patriots, the Texans or the Broncos, depending upon how other games turn out on Sunday.

As the Ravens watched film of the Bengals' defense this week, one player stood out.

``Geno Atkins is a force out there,'' running back Ray Rice said. ``He by far is one of the best D-linemen around. As a running back, you want to know where he is at all times, because you don't want to cut back into his lane and let him make that kind of play.''

Atkins was honored on Thursday as the AFC's defensive player of the week for his performance in Pittsburgh, which included eight tackles and one forced fumble when he got to Ben Roethlisberger. He's also getting mention as a candidate for defensive player of the year, although he expects a defensive end or linebacker - someone with more chances to get sacks - to get more consideration than a tackle.

``You usually get the grunt work and not 19 or 20 sacks,'' Atkins said. ``They're playing more of a glamour position.''

Atkins was a first alternate for the Pro Bowl last season, when he tied for the lead among NFL interior linemen with 7 1/2 sacks. He's far and away the leader this season with his 12 1/2 sacks - Ndamukong Suh of Detroit is second with 7.

``I think I'm finally getting respect around the league that I show out there on the field,'' he said.

He'll have some company.

Green was voted a starter as a rookie last season and made it again, impressive for a receiver who is already challenging Bengals records for a season. Green has 1,324 yards receiving, 116 shy of Chad Johnson's club record for a season.

``Two years, two Pro Bowls. That's got a good buzz to it,'' Green said. ``But I've got a long way to go to be where I want to be. I want to be great.

``Like I told everybody when I came into this game, I don't want to be one ordinary receiver. I want to be mentioned with some of the best that ever played. That's what my goal is: One of the best that ever played.''

Whitworth and tight end Jermaine Gresham were voted first alternates. Quarterback Andy Dalton and cornerback Leon Hall are third alternates.

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter:http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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Former Penn State stars Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders catch up after joint practice

Former Penn State stars Trace McSorley and Miles Sanders catch up after joint practice

Things this time last year were a lot different for Ravens quarterback Trace McSorley and Eagles running back Miles Sanders.

McSorley was entering his final year at Penn State, and not highly sought after as an NFL QB prospect. Many draft 'experts' predicted McSorley would have to change positions in order to play at the highest level of the game.

But McSorley, was profiled in NBC Sports Washingtons' I Am The Prospect' series, stuck with quarterback, and early on, it's paid off. The Ravens selected Penn State's all-time passing yards and touchdown passes leader in the sixth-round, and thus far, McSorley has shown promise. 

Sanders, a rising junior at the time, had just 56 career carries and less than 400 rushing yards in his first two seasons with Penn State. While that was not a reflection on Sanders (after all, he was the backup to some guy named Saquon Barkley), the junior had little film to indicate to pro scouts that he would be ready for the jump just a year later.

But after being the Nittany Lions workhorse in 2018, where he rushed for just under 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns, Sanders immediately became on the league's radar. The 22-year-old earned his way to All-Big 10 second-team honors and showed enough at the combine for the Eagles to invest their second-round pick in him.

The Ravens are set to face the Eagles in their third preseason game on Thursday, but Baltimore has been in the City of Brotherly Love for the past two days, competing in joint practices with the Eagles. These practices have given the former Penn State teammates time to catch up before they play each other in a couple of days.

"I think it's cool, just thinking that we were at Penn State a year ago," Sanders said. "Now we're all living our dream, just on different teams. When we get together for times like this, it's pretty cool."

"It's really cool. Spending years together in college, now we're all on separate teams now, but it's cool," McSorley said, echoing his former running back. "We're rooting for these guys. Turning on one of [Miles] games and watch him run, rooting him on. it's cool to come out and be on the practice field with him again. Haven't seen him in a while, being able to say 'what's up,' it's pretty cool."

Very few people know each other's skillsets the way McSorley and Sanders do of one another. So who better to ask than each of them as to what their respective team can expect out of each?

"They're getting a dawg, man, " McSorley said on his former teammate. "They're starting to figure that out now. He's a special player and Philly is going to love him."

"Same with Baltimore. They got a dawg," Sanders said on McSorley. "He's been showing it in the preseason games. They said he's not a quarterback, but he's proving everybody wrong. That's just how Trace is."

Besides checking in regularly to see how Sanders is doing, McSorley has found another way to follow his former running back's rookie season.

"[I'm going to] try and get him on my fantasy team," McSorley said, getting quite the chuckle out of Sanders.

Besides the loyalty aspect, McSorley could end up getting significant production from Sanders on his fantasy squad. After an impressive performance in the Eagles second preseason game, NJ.com reported that "it is increasingly hard to project him as anything less than this team’s No. 1 running back." 

Sanders may be a more than viable fantasy option as a rookie, but he doesn't play the popular game himself. But if he did, he knows one player he would snag.

"I don't do the fantasy stuff, but if I did, I would definitely put my boy on there," Sanders said on McSorley. "Watching everyone I played with in college, looking at their stats each week and seeing them. Just grow and be better players each week. The way we do it here, it's the same mentality because we all went to the same school."

The two will get to see each other in person for the first time at the NFL level on Thursday. 

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Longtime public-address announcer Bruce Cunningham steps down from Ravens

Longtime public-address announcer Bruce Cunningham steps down from Ravens

Bruce Cunningham, who has been the public-address announcer for the Baltimore Ravens since just after the inception of the franchise in 1996, is stepping down from the role.

"We were honored to have him participate in what we believe is the best home-game entertainment in the NFL," said Kevin Byrne, the Ravens Executive Vice president for public and community relations.

Cunningham explained his decision in a post for Fox 45 News, stating that "When I hit the twenty-year milestone last year, it sort of felt like a finish line, but I shrugged it off and chalked it up to fatigue."

But the fatigue caught up to him to start the year. "But it was indeed a finish line and after announcing the two preseason games, I realized I was done. The fire in the belly was gone," Cunningham said.

A new voice for the Ravens will start on Sept. 15 for opening night, and as Cunningham explained, he has one rule for how to treat the new announcer. "Let me repeat something I've told you exactly 202 times over the last twenty years: 'Don't Be A Jerk.'"

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