In preparations to fully evaluate the roster, the Cincinnati Bengals pulled no stops and prioritized playing the youngest members of the roster on Sunday in a win against the Cleveland Browns. This involved starting Darius Phillips at cornerback, activating a couple of former practice squad members, and starting three rookies.
For all the tribulations this rookie class went through this year, it was great to see all who played end 2019 with solid performances in a rare victory. Headlining it all was their highest healthy draft pick putting together his best game to date.
Germaine Pratt ends 2019 on a high note
In the Bengals’ Week 14 matchup against the Browns, stopping Browns running back Nick Chubb became a chore too tall for the Bengals to handle. Chubb ran for 106 yards, which was his sixth 100-yard game of the season at the time, and the Bengals’ run defense was rendered ineffective to stop him.
This time around, Chubb couldn’t even eclipse 50 yards. Pratt made sure the Pro Bowl back wouldn’t replicate his success from a few weeks back again.
December 31, 2019
Pratt put together the most complete game of his rookie season. In 36 snaps he recorded three defensive stops, essentially split a sack with Carl Lawson, and nearly got his hands on his first interception. Throughout the game, Pratt played in his run fits and allowed his athleticism to go to work. He looked as comfortable as we’ve seen him look all season and this bodes well for the future at that position, since he is the future at that position.
Free agency is going to be pretty interesting for the Bengals at linebacker. Nick Vigil has played well enough as the end of the season to warrant coming back on a prove-it deal, but more talent is still needed. With the way that Pratt has progressed, it won’t be as pressing of a need as could’ve been.
Fred Johnson continues to seize his opportunity
Much like Bobby Hart became the surprise winner of the starting right tackle job back in 2018, Johnson has emerged as something similar to take Hart’s job in 2020. The difference here is that Johnson has actual potential on his side.
Johnson’s best plays showcase the importance for practical athleticism in offensive lineman. In this game, he was a beast getting out in space and sealing off linebackers when climbing to the second level or pulling to his left on toss plays like this one.
Toss pic.twitter.com/lE5N5P8UW1— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 31, 2019
Now with two full games under his belt, Johnson has been productive in pass protection, but not exactly clean. His faulty reps still come in this department, particularly when getting his hands in a position to complete his set. The footwork is fine most of the time, but the hand placement and ability to lock onto rushers is an area that needs work this offseason.
Some issues to clean up here pic.twitter.com/W4GZaPSMF1— Matt Minich (@CoachMinich) December 31, 2019
At just 22 years of age, Johnson’s massive size of 6’7” 326 pounds combined with his natural explosion makes him a prime candidate to develop into something special. The tape he put out to close the season will help his case to not only stick around here for next year, but legitimately compete for a starting role with Jonah Williams, Trey Hopkins and others.
The Best of the Rest
Closing out on more positive notes, Michael Jordan received an offensive grade of 71.7 from Pro Football Focus for his best game of the season. He and Johnson were paving the way for Joe Mixon’s career day running the ball and he was just as good in pass protection. Much like Pratt, Jordan’s emergence has dwindled the situation at guard from a pressing need to a more modest one. Competition could do Jordan some good, but the things he’s showed of late should give the coaching staff confidence in him going forward.
Trenton Irwin was seen on the field for nine snaps, most of them in run blocking. The rookie was playing for Stanley Morgan on that side of the ball but didn’t get any special teams snaps, where Morgan has thrived this year.