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Bengals Week 3 rookie report: Damion Willis benched, Germaine Pratt gets opportunity

Cincinnati’s two defensive rookies got in on the action at Buffalo, albeit in minor roles.

Cincinnati Bengals v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy Ludwig/Getty Images

Most of the storylines from the Bengals’ 21-17 defeat to the Bills revolve around last year’s rookie class. Auden Tate and Darius Phillips each played the best game of their careers. Billy Price returned to the starting lineup for the first time at left guard and played fairly well. Andrew Brown made his regular season debut and registered a quarterback hit in the process.

The rest of the 2018 draft class stepping up is even more crucial considering the 2019 class has yet to make any kind of positive impact.

Week 3 in Buffalo was no different, as one rookie starter was benched, one couldn’t play due to injury, and their Day 2 picks did very little in minimal snaps they were given. Let’s cover it all in this week’s rookie report.

Damion Willis is back in a battle for playing time

Considering there wasn’t an announcement before the game, everyone was surprised to see Auden Tate out on the field at wide receiver to begin the game instead of Willis. In the preseason, Willis won the job fair and square, and with Tate injured for the last two games in August, his case was that much stronger. Now that Tate is healthy, he presented an upgrade over the rookie, and he proved to be too.

Tate lead the team in receiving (six receptions for 88 yards) and his 2.67 yards per route run ranked 16th among 85 qualifying receivers not counting the Monday night game. Despite barely playing last week, Tate already has nearly three times as many yards as Willis does, and with A.J. Green out for Monday night’s game against the Steelers, we should expect him to stay in the lineup.

Willis never even sniffed the field on offense and was used on just punt returns for special teams. We should still want to see Willis get opportunities, especially with Green remaining on the sideline, but perhaps they entrusted a little too much in him so early in his career. At least Tate seems to be taking advantage of his newfound opportunity. It’s up to Willis to even the score once more.

Germaine Pratt and Renell Wren finally see the field

During the emasculation of Bengals’ defense against the 49ers last week, neither Pratt nor Wren played a single down. Their presence wouldn’t have made much of a difference, but specifically for Pratt, it was astonishing to see him remain on the sideline while Nick Vigil and Preston Brown where getting embarrassed play after play.

For those two, the status quo didn’t change against the Bills. Run fits weren’t filled, second level edges were lost on lateral plays, and vacancies remained in coverage. It got so bad that newly-signed backup LaRoy Reynolds was out there for a few plays.

Before that, Pratt came on for Brown for three plays during the Bills’ third drive of the game. His third play showcased his wonderful explosion as an edge-setter.

Pratt would just see seven more snaps after this. Unfortunately, this was one of them:

As for Wren, he was on for 23 snaps, primarily at defensive end of all positions. Carl Lawson was active but didn’t play, and Kerry Wynn was out with a concussion. It was up to Andrew Brown and Wren to rotate with Carlos Dunlap and Sam Hubbard.

Wren obviously isn’t an edge defender by trade, and that’s why he was pretty much invisible for the casual viewer. The depth of this defensive line is really getting tested and we’re not even in October yet. If Ryan Glasgow remains out with a thigh injury, Wren will be counted on to step up once more. Hopefully the injuries at defensive end lighten up so he can play inside and inside only.

Quiet day for Drew Sample

The only offensive rookie to play was Sample. He was on the field for 10 snaps, and was blocking on seven of them. Entering this game, Sample was Pro Football Focus’ worst-graded run blocking tight end. He’s not anymore after Sunday’s game, as he turned in a solid performance as a blocker.

The offense was so incredibly inept for the majority of this game that an increased inclusion of Sample or even running back Trayveon Williams probably wouldn’t have made an impact. Williams was active for the first time this year after missing the last month with an ankle injury. The time he’s missed has likely put him behind Samaje Perine on the depth chart, as Perine got special teams reps and Williams did not.

We did not get to see Michael Jordan this week, as his knee injury kept him out of the game. He was listed as questionable, so he could very well be active next week against the Steelers. Zac Taylor and his staff will have to decide if they want to keep Billy Price at left guard or give the job back to Jordan.