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Germaine Pratt's New Bengals Deal Is Business As Usual For A Mother's Son  

Germaine Pratt.
Germaine Pratt.

It's not like the gritty old days back in High Point when she worked three jobs; one for each son that she was raising by herself.

Yet, it is a bit poetic when Germaine Pratt's first call after he agreed to his new Bengals contract went to Shemeka Bland as his mother got ready to go to work.

"I'm not ready to sit down yet," Bland says. "I don't work as hard as I did for many years. But now it's just a matter of getting up and going."

Pratt, the Bengals linebacker whose renowned film study has allowed him to choreograph some of the most memorable moments of this memorable decade for the franchise, has the knack for doing the right thing at the right time. The phone call stirred the text chain with his two brothers and mother and it's still going a few days later.

"We didn't do a lot of celebrating. We did a lot of talking yesterday and it's kept going today," says Bland, still calling him by his last name because he likes it better than his first. "A lot of praying between me and his brothers. We were just congratulating him. Pratt is a humble child. If you didn't know him, you wouldn't know he played football."

Oh boy, does he play football.

Ask the 66,277 at Paycor Stadium a year ago as he drifted to the middle of the field with two seconds left to pick Raiders quarterback Derek Carr at the Cincinnati 2 and preserve the Bengals' first postseason win in six presidents.

Maybe check in with Chiefs Golden Globes tight end Travis Kelce. Two months before he went on Saturday Night Live, it was Kelce who got thrown around by Pratt with a ball-wrenching-game-turning forced fumble as the Bengals pre-empted Kansas City's fourth-quarter drive.

Or just ask Bengals linebacker coach James Bettcher, the two-time NFL defensive coordinator going into his second season here.

"Germaine is aware and loves the game, and I know you're saying; 'Give me something that sounds prettier,'" Bettcher says. "I'm just telling you those (moments) define the great players, the players that make a difference since I've been in the league. The guys that impact their team, that impact the building in a positive way and that you want around. Those are the two characteristics those guys have … It's contagious."

Two weeks after the Bengals took Pratt in the 2019 third round out of North Carolina State, he kept Shemeka in Carolina and moved her out of High Point to be near him in Charlotte. A few weeks after that during spring ball, she told, "He's one of these people who is hungry. Hungry for success."

Nearly four years and about $21 million later, Bettcher is still talking about Pratt's hunger.

"He's aware what's going on on the field when it's happening. He's aware in the meeting room. He's aware in his preparation," Bettcher says. "He's aware of where he's at as a player and what he can grow at. I think that's what keeps guys hungry. That's what keeps guys going is when they're aware and love the game. Man, those are potent combinations."

Pratt keeps going, so it's no coincidence Bland keeps going to her job as a home health aide. It's not as hectic and as long, she says, as those days she worked at Waffle House and as a cleaner for commercial buildings when she wasn't working home health. Those were the days she was up at 6 in the morning hoped to be back home by 10 at night.

Now, maybe she works six hours at a time and her middle son just signed a contract worth a string of Waffle Houses.

"He has told me numerous times I really don't have to do it. But I guess I'm sort of immune to it," Bland says. "I just have two clients. One is an elderly lady who still gets around pretty well and so we're out and about all the time. My other client is in the afternoon and I just love him. A 10-year-old disabled little boy. I like doing what I do. It's really my choice."

Pratt once told a Carolina TV station that he grew up "in poverty, in the hood." When she was 15, Bland's father was killed. On Tuesday, after signing on to a new chapter, Pratt acknowledged the earlier ones had their share of adversity. Yet, they kept going to work and Shemeka Bland can still recite the goals her seventh grade son wrote down when she sent him to Ferndale Middle School.

"Get his high school diploma. Play Division I ball. Graduate. Go to the NFL. Those goals grew at N.C. State, where he would list things he wanted to improve on before training camp broke. Stuff like eye discipline. Hand work. Maybe drops."

The list, he revealed Tuesday, is still growing.

"When you were a rookie, you were excited to be here. But once you're in the league, you want more," Pratt said. "You don't just want the money, you want the Super Bowl and everything that comes with it. You don't play this game just for the money. You play because you want to leave a legacy and be a Super Bowl champion. Once you leave here, people aren't talking about the money you made. They'll talk about you as a Super Bowl champion. You gave it all for your team. And you left a legacy here."

And even though Pro Football Focus rated his coverage fifth best among linebackers last season, Pratt says he wants to improve and become "dominant," against the pass. He looks at his ten passes defensed last season and says he should have had more than two interceptions. Never mind that those 10 passes defensed more than doubled the output of his first three seasons or that one of those interceptions squelched Tom Brady's hopes for another fourth-quarter comeback.

Never mind Bettcher says that's where he showed the biggest improvement last season.

"(His) understanding of the coverage of where he needs to be and how he can move himself to be in the position to take away throws," Bettcher says. "There are a lot of statistics that Germaine probably has that don't count. Where a quarterback is coming right because that's where the coverage tells him to go and Germaine's leaning on the window because he knows the soft spot. I think those are immeasurable downs for us. When we get the quarterback to hold the ball, it allows guys to be disruptive up front and that was one of the things I thought he grew doing."

Pratt is appreciative that he gets more than $15 million of his deal in the first two years (and $10 million this year), but he doesn't see a whole heck of a lot changing. After he flew in from Charlotte Tuesday to do media, his first lunch of this $10 million season was supplied by equipment assistant Sam Staley giving him the bag of Chick-fil-A and cup of Powerade he ordered.

"When I was younger, I always chased my brother around. I always wanted to be around him," Pratt said on Tuesday. "The little brother always wants to be around the biggest brother. He really introduced football to me. We always talked about, 'Once we get rich, we'll do this and we'll do that.' But you know, once you get the money, it's like 'Ah, we're not really going to do all that.'"

His mother does have some plans.

"Pratt's busy. He has two little kids," she says. "I want to do something for him this weekend. Just a little something. Me. His brothers. The grandkids. Something we can celebrate. Pratt's a humble child and I'm so proud."

He's still the junior high kid making goals even after signing that coveted second contract.

"Everybody says the second contract (is the goal), but you want to get to a third and be a Super Bowl champion," says Shemeka Bland's son.


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