Zac Taylor, Head coach
Drew Sample, Tight end, University of Washington
Germaine Pratt, Linebacker, North Carolina State University
Initial comments ...
Taylor: “I have with me Drew Sample, our second round pick and tight end from Washington, and Germaine Pratt, linebacker from North Carolina State who we selected in the third round. Both guys bring the right mindset to what we’re trying to bring to this organization. Both are physical players, detailed, leaders, and so we’re really excited. We identified these guys early on as guys we wanted to target. We’re very fortunate that they were there when we picked them. We’re really excited about the mentality and physicality they’ll bring to this team. Both come from really solid programs, they’ve been well-coached, and their coaches held them in high regard, so that goes a long way with us. I’m really encouraged that we have these two guys in the building. You guys will enjoy getting to know them. I’ll answer further questions on these guys after the draft. But for now, I’ll let you guys handle them. Enjoy the visit with them.”
Drew, you were rated the best blocking tight end in the draft, which speaks to your physicality. Are you proud of that fact?
Sample: “Yeah, definitely. All throughout college and even high school, it’s definitely something I took pride in. I came from a high school where we ran the triple-option and threw probably one or two passes a game, so I was pretty much a sixth offensive lineman. I think that’s kind of where it comes from, is taking pride in that. At Washington, it was definitely something that my coach instilled in us as a tight end group, to take pride in that. It’s definitely something I think I do well, and hopefully it’s something I can transfer to this level too.”
As the league becomes more pass-friendly, most of the tight ends you see now are pass-happy. Did you wonder how you could find the right fit for somebody that comes from your style, which is a much more old-school, smash-mouth tight end?
Sample: “Yeah, I think I’m a complete tight end. I think that’s something I can bring to the table. I’ll definitely do whatever I can to help the team, and I think that’s something I bring — the physicality in the run game just at the point of attack, and things like that. I definitely think there’s a place for that. There’s a lot of good running backs and a lot of teams that want to pound the rock, so I’m excited.”
Is there anybody in the league that you watch tape and say, ‘That fits me?’
Sample: “I grew up watching a lot of Jason Witten. He was kind of a guy I looked up to. I feel like he’s a complete player. He’s played at a high level for a long time. He does a lot of good things in the pass game obviously, but in the run game too, I think he’s a physical, tough player. Growing up in high school and in college, he was someone I watched a lot of tape on and looked up to.”
Germaine, how much did starting your collegiate career at safety help you in your transition to becoming a linebacker?
Pratt: “It helped me understand the defense and knowing my responsibility, my help and my leverage in coverage. It helped me become versatile. Safety helped me out a lot. I can play inside and outside of the box, and I’m better playing in space and making tackles in space. I can do different things at linebacker.”
You were an Ed Reed guy growing up. Were you a Ravens fan, or were you just a fan of Ed Reed?
Pratt: “I was just a fan of Ed Reed. I love the way he played the game, the passion and love he had for the game, and the ball-hawk mentality he had for the game. I loved the way he played and loved the way he competed.”
In the NFL, you guys are both in a position that’s interesting now with the way NFL teams use the tight end to their advantage. They’re everywhere — they catch, they’re outside, they’re in the slot, they’re everywhere. Linebackers are a lot like safeties. How do both of you see those roles you might be filling in the NFL? Do you feel ready to handle those types of roles at the highest level possible?
Pratt: “I’m ready for the opportunity. I don’t look at it as a challenge, I look at it as an opportunity to compete. I’m a confident player. I think I can cover and do it all as a linebacker. I think it’s great for me to take on that challenge and be ready for the opportunity.”
Sample: “In my time at Washington, we did a lot of different things with the tight ends. They had us go in motion and split out in the slot, block in space, and do a lot of things like that. I think that’ll definitely help prepare me for that, and I’m excited to do that. That’s one of the things that makes me different, which is the versatility I have and the different positions I’ve played throughout my career. I’m excited for that.”
Have you taken any fullback-type of snaps, or short-yardage or goal-line snaps where you were the lead blocker?
Sample: “Yeah, we did a good amount of that at practice and a few things in games. I’ve played halfback. We put our halfback in the Y-formation. I rotated with that all four years. I feel comfortable in a lot of different positions, and I can bring that to the table.”
Drew, what’s more exciting to you, making the big block that leads to a touchdown, or making a touchdown catch?
Sample: “I like the big block. I feel that’s personally how I am. At Washington, I loved blocking for Myles (Washington RB Myles Gaskin), a guy who our whole offensive line wanted to block for. It’s a good feeling when you can move a guy through a hole and create a big play for your team. Obviously I love to catch the ball and to catch touchdowns, but being a part of a team, I think it’s pretty special.”
How about you Germaine? A pick-six, a sack, or throwing a guy for a five-yard loss by making a great read in the running game?
Pratt: “I’d say the five-yard loss, because with the three-technique, I’ll be able to shoot through the gap, and I think that’s great for me. The defensive line in front of me will feed off of that, so I think that’s huge to be able to celebrate in the backfield with my defensive line.”
Germaine, you came out of a linebacker draft that was packed. Everybody talked about the top two guys. Did that fuel you at all? Did you think you were under the radar, and if so did you like that?
Pratt: “Everybody has in their mind the two draft picks that are high. Now we’re all on the same playing level. We’re in the NFL. They got drafted high, and I got drafted in the third round, but now you have to compete. You have to showcase what that money’s worth, wherever you got drafted. Now you have to compete and showcase what you’re about. I think it is a little fuel for me to showcase my talent, because I’m still hungry and on the rise. Some people don’t know about me, but they ought to know about me.”
You’ve been playing linebacker for two years, right?
Pratt: “Yeah, two years.”
Bengals linebackers coach Tem Lukabu was saying you’re coming in here without a ceiling ...
Pratt: “Yeah. I’m still learning the position from coach, and I think I’m going to keep on improving my game. One year as a starter, and I had a great season. I think I’m still going to be on the rise and be ready to improve myself at the next level.”
What are some things you both can work on at the next level?
Pratt: “My pad level and hands. I come in high too sometimes. As a safety, I didn’t have to take on blocks. Linebackers have to lock in on the lineman coming at you. I need to take care of those blocks and then go make a play on the ball.”
Sample: “Route-running and using my leverages. I want to grow in those areas. I didn’t have much opportunity at that at Washington. And then working on my technique; there’s a lot of good defensive linemen in the NFL. I want to make sure my technique is right. Those things will help me.”
Your footwork looks solid. Were your coaches sticklers for that in college?
Sample: “It goes back to high school, where we didn’t really have a tight ends coach. I worked with the O-line coach. Then in college, Coach Paopao (Washington tight ends coach Jordan Paopao) was an ex-offensive line coach, so he was all about the details of hand placement and footwork. That helped me a lot, and it will continue to help me at this level too.”
How many hours of sleep are you running on?
Sample: “I’m running on one or two hours of sleep maybe. We flew out around 11 Seattle time, and we got here this morning around 5:25. But I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyway.”
You brought your wife here today. Is it exciting coming here knowing you can put roots down?
Sample: “It’s awesome. She’s been with me since before I played college snaps. We’ve been on this train together. She’s been my rock through the whole process. It’s special. We’re expecting a baby girl in September. We got a jump start on that, and it’s exciting to grow a family and get settled here.”
N.C. State has sent six players to the NFL the last two years. Did you lean on any of them at all?
Pratt: “We came in together in 2014. That class wanted to make an impact. I lean on B.J. Hill, Bradley Chubb, Jaylen Samuels — mostly all of them. They all gave me positive feedback. I redshirted my junior year, so they always told me to stay with it and stay positive.”
Bengals WR John Ross was your teammate at Washington for a few years. Have you heard from him at all since being drafted?
Sample: “Yes I have. We FaceTimed last night at my draft party. It will be cool to be back with him. I know he’s a pretty special player, so I’m excited to be back with him.”
How would you describe your draft-day experience, being with family and everything?
Sample: “It was truly special. I had pretty close family there, nothing too crazy. I wanted it to be intimate and enjoy the moment. When my phone rang, I’m pretty sure I blacked out — I don’t really remember it. I’m really excited to be here and for this opportunity. It was definitely everything I thought it was.”
Pratt: “It was priceless. I was around my brother and mother. They didn’t even let me talk on the phone, they were all yelling. It was a great moment.”
Drew, did you talk to John Ross beforehand at all about the Bengals being interested?
Sample: “When he came back to Washington, I talked to him. But it wasn’t specific about the Bengals. I talked to him about the process.”
Check out behind-the-scenes photos of the newest Bengals, 2nd round pick Drew Sample and 3rd round pick Germaine Pratt at Paul Brown Stadium.