At first look, you may not think that Giovani Bernard is much of a threat against opposing defenses. And at 5’9” he’s not a very tall guy, compared to other NFL players.
But then he packs 209 pounds into that small frame along with hard hits and quick moves and you see why the Cincinnati Bengals are excited about having him on their team.
Bernard was the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL Draft (37th overall pick). A two-year starter at the University of North Carolina, Bernard accumulated 2,481 rushing yards and 25 rushing touchdowns and 852 receiving yards and six receiving touchdowns.
He’s a humble guy that everybody seems to like. And how could you not like him? He’s reportedly driving his girlfriend’s mother’s minivan to camp. But he’s more than just a likeable guy on the Bengals' roster. While the Bengals obviously had high expectations for him coming in, he’s been a pleasant surprise in that he is much further along than they had thought he would be at this point.
Coming in to camp, the plan was to use Bernard as a complementary player to BenJarvus Green-Ellis. As camp went along the talk changed to Bernard and The Law Firm possibly splitting carries. But now it seems that Bernard may have an outside chance of taking over the majority of the running back duties.
Coach Marvin Lewis recently said that he could see Bernard getting 25 carries a game. And it won’t be just carries that Bernard will see. He has also made an impression with his pass catching abilities. “He’s so natural catching the ball. He catches it like a receiver," said running backs coach Hue Jackson.
Jackson goes on to say that he thinks he could be an every-down player. While Bernard isn’t going to put A.J. Green out of a job, the Bengals would like to have another option that will likely open up more passes to Green. Bernard provides that option, with defenses having to also focus on him and not just Green this season.
The Bengals say that they have certain packages designed for this that Bernard could take advantage of. Of course a running back that can run and catch is great, but none of that matters if they don’t understand the pass protections and aren’t willing to execute them. Check that off the list for Bernard also. He did that at UNC and the Cincy coaches report that he has done that so far in training camp, giving Andy Dalton the protection he needs when he’s not giving Bernard the rock.
Tavon Austin, E.J. Manuel, and other rookies are going to get a lot of attention this year and it will likely be well deserved. But Bernard is going to help the Bengals this season. They haven’t had a do-it-all type of running back in a long time and Bernard seems to be just that.
Early on I think teams are going to sleep on him and he’s going to capitalize on that. And even after teams figure out that he’s a threat, he’s still going to be able to be a productive running back every Sunday.