CINCINNATI -- Believe it or not, Geno Atkins does actually speak.
And when he does, it's wise for young defensive lineman to listen just like undrafted rookie DeShawn Williams did last Friday night.
Moments before Williams learned he would be entering the Cincinnati Bengals' exhibition opener with the third-team defense, his veteran Pro Bowl teammate pulled him to the side.
"He told me exactly what the center was going to do," Williams said, "and I'll be dang if a hole didn't open up."
With just inside 3:20 left in the game, the Bengals sported a defensive line that included Williams and fellow rookie Marcus Hardison on the line's interior. Just as they had done for most of the game's closing minutes, Hardison and Williams traded double teams, creating creases for the other to go through. It was clear all throughout the fourth quarter that the two young backups have sound synergy.
"For some reason, we click," Hardison said of his roommate. "When we're in there together, we kind of know what to do. We communicate well with each other."
Apparently they communicate well with Atkins, too. The veteran lineman hardly speaks to reporters and tends to keep a lot of conversations with teammates from other position groups to a minimum.
When he's talking strategy with his young teammates, though, the words flow. In this particular instance, Atkins told Williams where the center was going to go. Sure enough, on this particular first down late in the game, after snapping the ball, the Giants' center turned left to double team Hardison with the left guard. That left Williams in a one-on-one battle with the right guard that he won easily before also slipping past a running back who stepped up late to block from the backfield.
In a matter of 10 steps, Williams recorded his first unofficial NFL sack.
"I thought I was going to get the sack," Hardison said. "I came through with a two-way block, but then I'm still about to come in for the sack, and he just came out of nowhere."
Although Hardison thought he would be able to break through the double team, it was the protection he drew that opened Williams' opportunity. Minutes later, he was paid back.
On a second down just after the two-minute warning, Williams mauled the right guard and center in a way that cleared a hole to Hardison's left. He sprinted toward Giants quarterback Ricky Stanzi virtually untouched as he recorded his lone sack of the game.
"They work well together," defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. "That's good. But that unit has to work well, it doesn't matter who's out there. I was happy for them to do it, but they've got to keep doing it. Maybe do it in the end of the first quarter, second quarter sometime and see how that goes."
A fourth-round pick out of Arizona State, Hardison was drafted to primarily play on the Bengals' line interior. A training camp injury to Michael Johnson shook up the defensive end rotation, though, forcing Hardison into playing a little more on the edge than coaches originally had in mind. Hayes still wants to see the young lineman in more run situations.
Williams could be one of the hidden gems of this Bengals' rookie class. Overshadowed by the likes of Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett, the 6-foot-1 Williams was the least regarded player on a very good Clemson defensive line, and thus went undrafted.
"He just had extreme quickness," Hayes said, recalling Williams' pro day. "He's not the tallest guy, but he just moved well; was very athletic."