Germaine Pratt has gradually been playing a bigger role on the Cincinnati Bengals’ defense over the last few weeks, but now that veteran Preston Brown is gone, it seems the team will be leaning on the rookie third-round draft pick even more.
The Bengals on Tuesday waived Brown, a sixth-year player who had re-signed to a three-year, $16.5 million contract in March. Brown was limited to seven games last year because of ankle and knee injuries, and Cincinnati was hoping that when healthy he could be a productive leader for the defense.
Pratt had started in Brown’s place Sunday during a 49-13 loss to the Ravens, and he’ll likely remain there as the team’s strongside linebacker when the Bengals (0-9) play the Oakland Raiders (5-4) on the road Sunday.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to be out here, being able to play the game I love,” Pratt said. “I think that’s great that they have the confidence behind me to give me the opportunity to play.”
The 23-year-old out of N.C. State said he was surprised by the team’s decision to cut Brown, but it was clear Taylor was expecting more out of the linebackers after he called them out in his press conference Monday, saying someone needed to step up in that position group.
Pratt doesn’t think it’s all on him to step up, but he is in a position to do so now that he’s getting more playing time. Sunday marked his second start and the highest percentage of snaps he has played on defense this season, appearing on 49 percent of the defensive plays. He’s been in for at least 25 percent of the snaps in the last four games, and he’s made 20 total tackles in eight appearances.
“I feel like it’s a call for everyone in the group,” Pratt said. “I think everybody should take it personally. We aren’t getting the job done. Now we’re getting paid to do our job and (coach Taylor) made comments to step up, so one of us has to step up, or really all of us have to step up.”
Jordan Evans, whose playing time has been limited, also was surprised to learn Brown was cut but said it’s a reminder of what is on the line every day as players are constantly being evaluated.
“Guys get cut every day, so I don’t want to say it’s a message as much as the fact you hate seeing one of your friends get fired from their job and you’ve got to be there for him to make sure that another opportunity is going to come,” Evans said. “But, since Day 1 as a rookie, you know you could be cut so that’s part of the job is getting evaluated each and every day so you’ve just got to be prepared and always be doing your best.”
The Bengals just made a big change on offense, benching veteran quarterback Andy Dalton and replacing him with rookie fourth-round draft pick Ryan Finley.
Taylor said the team wasn’t necessarily trying to send a message by cutting Brown, but the Bengals “just need to keep mixing up that room.”
“Like I said Monday, we need to keep challenging those guys and find someone to step up and be consistent and be a leader in that group, and so far the production just hasn’t been there, so that was a decision we felt we needed to make,” Taylor said. “… It’s just where we’re at in the season right now and just some of the things that keep happening in games. You just feel like you’ve got to change it up and whether that’s called ‘sending a message’ or not, I don’t care. We are just trying to find a win and find some consistency there in the middle of that defense.”
Cincinnati’s defense ranks last in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (429.4) and rushing yards allowed (173.0) and is tied for 28th in points allowed per game (28.8). The linebacker struggles have dated back to last year, but Brown and Nick Vigil returned as starters with Pratt and LaRoy Reynolds serving as new backups alongside Evans, a third-year player.
Pratt said he’s continuing to “grow in the system” and getting more comfortable, especially in the running game, where he feels he is the strongest and where the Bengals especially need help facing the eighth-ranked rushing offense in the league this week. For Pratt, it’s just a matter of getting down the concepts and playing faster as he adjusts to the speed of the NFL.
Taylor has seen progress from Pratt and hopes as he gets more reps, consistency will develop.
“With all of these young players, you’re going to see some positives and some things they need to improve on,” Taylor said when asked what he thought of Pratt on Sunday. “He had a good tackle early in the game when he ran a play down on the Baltimore sidelines. It’s the consistency from these young guys that needs to take place over the course of the game.”
Bengals at Raiders, 4:25 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12; 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7
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