The Cincinnati Bengals replaced Al Golden with former 49ers assistant coach James Bettcher. He has the luxury of going from a stacked 49ers linebacker room to a very bright group of Bengals linebackers.
Bettcher even mentioned that one of the best linebackers in the NFL recognized how good of a group Bettcher was getting in Cincinnati.
“Me too,” Bettcher told Warner. “I’m glad you told me that.”
While Cincinnati may not have a guy with the recognition of Warner in their linebacker room, they have plenty of young linebackers on the brink of breaking out.
It is led by Logan Wilson who took a huge leap in his second season taking over as the full-time middle linebacker. He is what Bengals fans begged for at the linebacker position for years. He has outstanding coverage ability as well as great instincts against the run.
If not for a questionable flag, he would have made one of the biggest plays of the Super Bowl breaking up a pass for Cooper Kupp at the goal line. You won’t see many linebackers succeed with that assignment.
Wilson isn’t the only promising linebacker. We saw Germaine Pratt take a serious step forward as well. He started off the season rotating with Akeem Davis-Gaither, but after Davis Gaither went down with an injury, Pratt took over almost all of the snaps going to the second linebacker. He was constantly communicating with the defensive line and Wilson about the play they were about to see. He often would adjust the line and then run into a position to be able to blow up run plays.
Pratt may also be one of the most violent tacklers on the team, and he sets the tone for the defense in the respect. You could see that on display following a rough stretch of tackling against the New York Jets and Cleveland Browns during the middle of the season.
The aforementioned Davis-Gaither as well as Markus Bailey have shown plenty of promise in their own right as well. Bettcher will be able to help mold them into guys that will make great depth pieces behind the impressive starters.
A player like Warner giving this group respect really shows how far along that group has come. A few seasons ago it was obvious the team had to make drastic changes at the position. Now it is one of the young strengths of the team that gets noticed by Pro Bowlers.