Rookie linebacker Germaine Pratt has had some ups and downs this season. Early on, the Bengals begrudgingly put him on the field in short spurts. He’d take a series here, or three plays there, but when he made a rookie mistake he would quickly be riding the pine.
While this was not Pratt’s first start, the Bengals releasing veteran linebacker Preston Brown solidifies Pratt’s starting role. Now he is getting more reps to develop and evaluate as a potential answer to the linebacker problem.
Let’s take a look at how he did against the Oakland Raiders.
In the clip above, Pratt is the inside linebacker to the right. As Josh Jacobs takes the handoff and heads to the defense’s left, Pratt shuffles down the line. He is not flying across the formation because he is responsible for the cutback.
The Raiders have decided to run the ball towards Geno Atkins (unwise). Atkins throws the offensive guard to the ground and then engages on the full back.
As a result Jacobs cuts back and when he does Pratt steps up into the hole and makes the tackle.
This is an excellent play that shows Pratt’s understanding of his role within the defense.
In the clip above, Pratt is the inside linebacker to the offense’s left.
This time, he isn’t the cutback player. Jacobs runs right at him, but defensive tackle Andrew Billings is showing in the hole and Jacobs cuts back.
Pratt adjusts. After stepping into his gap, he sees Jacobs cut and turns sharply to meet him.
No, he did not make the tackle on this play, but he shouldn’t have been anywhere near making the tackle. On this play he demonstrates the ability to read and adjust on the fly, which is something this position group has lacked in recent years.
If his processing can improve, and he can make that adjustment a fraction of a second faster, he will make those tackles and could develop into a special player.
Pratt is a smart player who makes good reads in the run game, but the clip above gives me concerns. Is he too patient?
Pratt is lined up behind the right defensive end. As the ball is snapped, the running back heads in his direction. A gap opens up right in front of Pratt, but he actually pauses for a second before shooting it.
He makes the tackle for a short gain, but it could have been a loss.
While his reads have been good, his reactions need to be faster. That brief hesitation is the difference between a good linebacker and a great linebacker.
Another area of concern is disengaging from blocks. In the clip above, Pratt is lined up directly over the center. The ball is tossed to Jacobs who is heading to the right. Pratt flows in that direction but right tackle Trent Brown is quickly on him. Brown pushes him back and eventually washes him out of the play.
Pratt had this issue a few times. He needs to learn to use his hands to get off of blocks.
I was a big fan of Pratt coming out of college, but in my eval of him I noted that he was much better against the run than the pass. This is a bit odd for a converted safety, but it was true then and it is true now.
This makes Pratt fit in with the Bengals linebackers in a rather unfortunate way. Pratt is however a better athlete than most Bengals linebackers in recent memory and has demonstrated that he is a very intelligent player. Add those things up and you have a player who can improve in pass defense, particularly with his increased work load.
In the clip above, Pratt does a good job of matching up and running with tight end Darren Waller, but earlier in the game Pratt was called for holding while attempting to cover a wide receiver.
Pratt needs to develop his zone and man coverage skills, but he does demonstrate an excellent ability to funnel the football. This seems like a very basic thing, and it is, but the Bengals were absolutely terrible at it in 2018.
In the clip above, Pratt is walked up on the line of scrimmage to the offense’s right.
He drops back into the hook, locating the receiver as he runs through his zone and reading the quarterback. When the quarterback throws the ball to Jacobs in the flat, Pratt breaks to his inside hip while cornerback Darqueze Dennard breaks on his outside hip.
The pair converge on Jacobs and he has nowhere to go.
Pratt has shown some potential, but he has a long way to go. An increased workload over the remainder of the season will help, but he needs to be coached hard in that time and in offseason workouts.
While I love his potential and college film, I am not yet convinced that he can be the answer at linebacker. He has a long way to go before he can be counted on to play consistently against the run and the pass.