For Cincinnati Bengals’ third-year linebacker Germaine Pratt, it’s always about the ball.
“He always say it’s about the ball,” Vonn Bell, one of the Bengals’ defensive captains, said recently. “He said ‘I woke up thinking about the ball.’”
And Pratt doesn’t just talk the talk. He walks the walk.
With his forced fumble and fumble recovery against the Chargers in Week 13, Pratt became the first Bengals’ linebacker in nearly 20 years to record multiple forced fumbles and recoveries in the same season.
“It’s all about the ball,” Pratt said. “Linebackers want to touch the ball, too.”
Since that Chargers’ game, Pratt has become everything the Bengals hoped he would be when they took him in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft out of North Carolina State.
That just happens to be the game that middle linebacker Logan Wilson went down with an injury that has kept him sidelined ever since. That was also the game Pratt finished as the highest-rated linebacker in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus, which awarded him an overall score of 90.6.
And PFF has not always been kind to Pratt. In Cincinnati’s Week 11 win against the Las Vegas Raiders, Pratt finished with the lowest grade among all Bengals’ starters (-25.8). In the Week 12 win against the Steelers, Pratt was given the lowest graded score for tackling and was charged with three missed tackles.
So far this season, Pratt has been credited with 52 solo tackles, 33 assists, 0.5 sacks and an interception to go along with his two forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries.
Overall, Pratt grades out at 51.5, which places him 44th out of the 83 linebackers in the league who’ve received grades.
But since Wilson went down, Pratt has been a machine. In the last three games, he has recorded 33 total tackles, including 16 solos and 17 assists. He has been especially tough against the run, and his pass defense grade is remarkably similar to Wilson’s (52.3 to 54.3). It is in rushing the passer where he needs the most work, as evidenced by his grade of 41.2.
While Pratt may not have touched the ball Sunday against the Broncos, he did lay his hands on plenty of ball carriers. Pratt led the Bengals with 15 total tackles (nine solos and six assists) and was credited, along with fellow linebacker Markus Bailey, with the first sack of his career.
And, in addition to playing his heart out, Pratt has become the leader on the field for the defense, taking over Wilson’s role as the man with the headset who is responsible for relaying the calls to the rest of the defense.
“He’s like a coach on the field,” fellow linebacker Joe Bachie said. ”He’s the veteran of the group and our guys lean on him and G’s there to help everyone in the room.”
If the Bengals are going to make the playoffs, they will have to continue to rely on “coach” Pratt to be the man in the middle of it all.