CINCINNATI (AP) Defensive tackle Geno Atkins joined in his first training camp practice on Wednesday, a big step in his comeback from a torn knee ligament.
One of the NFL's top interior linemen, Atkins had been limited to working out on a side field for the first week of training camp. He was cleared to join the team for practice on Wednesday. Coach Marvin Lewis said he'll be limited at the outset.
Atkins' return is a huge boost to a defense that finished third overall in the NFL last season.
''When you have a guy like him out there, the rules change,'' defensive line coach Jay Hayes said. ''People will adjust their protections to find where No. 97 is.''
Atkins tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during a game at Miami on Oct. 31. He led the team with six sacks when he got hurt.
Atkins was a 2012 All-Pro and a two-time Pro Bowl selection. He had 12 1/2 sacks in 2012, the most by an NFL interior lineman.
The lineman is quiet, gives few interviews and doesn't say much to his teammates, so it's been difficult to gauge how he's doing with the knee.
''He hardly says anything,'' defensive tackle Domata Peko said. ''I bet once he starts getting back in the game and starts practicing and starts playing again, he'll start talking a little bit more. But he lets his play talk for him. He doesn't really need to say anything.''
Atkins joined the team for a morning workout, which is how his teammates learned that he was back.
''Once we all saw him in the huddle, we were like, `All right, big Geno is back,''' Peko said. ''We are excited about him.
''I'm excited to get an All-Pro guy, a Pro Bowler back. Geno is one of the best defensive tackles in the game. It's going to uplift everybody.''
Cornerback Leon Hall was cleared to start the first day of camp. He has returned from a torn Achilles tendon.
Online: AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL