Bengals rookie linebacker on realizing NFL dream: ‘This is what you work for all your life’

Germaine Pratt described rookie minicamp last week as an opportunity to “just run around like a kid again” and play the game he loves after a draining process leading up to the NFL Draft.

The Cincinnati Bengals selected Pratt, a linebacker from N.C. State, in the third round. The last few weeks, he admittedly has reverted back to his childhood dreamworld more than a few times.

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Upon finding out he was selected, he was shouting, “I’m a Bengal, I’m a Bengal,” and three days after the draft he already felt a part of the family when Chad Johnson sent him a message on Twitter out of the blue, saying he loved Pratt. Pratt’s enthusiasm hasn’t wavered since arriving to Paul Brown Stadium, and he hopes to bring that to the field as he and the other rookies mix in with the veterans this week and more competitively next week during Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

“This is what you work for all your life, and then when you’ve got guys you looked up to as a kid sending you messages and you put that helmet on the first time, it’s surreal,” Pratt said. “It’s a great opportunity. I just need to be myself and stay true to who I am because I can add something to this group. I just need to be myself and not try to switch anything up just because I’m in the NFL now. I’m just the same Germaine Pratt.”

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Pratt said minicamp was the first opportunity to showcase who he is, but the two days of meetings and practices served as more of a learning and development opportunity. The main thing he tried to show was that he can learn quickly and work hard.

On Monday, he and the other rookies mixed in with the veterans for the first time, but they are limited in this portion of the offseason workout program so the real competition heats up next week during OTAs.

“It’s about just studying the playbook and playing with confidence,” Pratt said. “Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s about improving and getting better and helping the team out.”

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Head coach Zac Taylor met with the rookies Thursday night before minicamp began Friday, and Pratt said he took from that the need to “be accountable, dependable and reliable.”

Those are all traits he displayed at N.C. State, and he joins a group in need of bodies. The linebacker spot was perceived as the weak spot of the defense last year when Cincinnati allowed a league-worst 413.6 yards and 29th-ranked 28.4 points per game, and the loss of veterans Vontaze Burfict (waived) and Vinny Rey (un-signed in free agency) means the group has even less depth.

Pratt could fit right in. He was a first-team all-ACC pick after racking up 104 tackles, a team-high 10.5 for loss, and six sacks in 11 games as a senior in 2018, his only year as a full-time starter. He began his career as a safety, which he believes makes him a more well-rounded linebacker.

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“He’s a big guy, looks strong, fast and explosive,” linebacker Nick Vigil said. “He seems pretty confident, which is what you need to have in this league. You can’t be timid so the more confidence you have the better. It will be exciting to see what he can do.”

The 6-foot-2, 240-pound Pratt said he felt welcomed Monday when he first met with the other linebackers. He found it helpful to watch how the veterans go about their routines the first two days of combined practices and found everyone to be encouraging.

Pratt doesn’t feel any sense of security among the group just because he was a third-round draft pick in a position the Bengals had a need.

“I just take it as an opportunity every day to thank God I can play the game of football,” he said. “I just put it in God’s hands, that’s where the security comes.”

Sixth-year linebacker Preston Brown, who is the most veteran player of the position group, said it’s still early to evaluate anyone, but Pratt seemed to be grasping concepts well and genuinely working hard. When asked about his first impression of Pratt, Brown joked the first thing he noticed was that Pratt has more hair on his beard than his head. More seriously, though, Brown added, “he’s doing a lot of good things out there on the field.”

There’s still plenty more to come.

“We’ll see when he has to cover and chase people down next week but we drafted him so I’m excited to see what he can do,” Brown said.

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