Bengals' Gio Bernard knows the tough road NFL rookies travel

The second-year running back is finally recovering after a year spent being run through the NFL Draft/rookie year wringer and he's stronger for it.

Giovani Bernard is coming off an impressive first year in the NFL.

Andrew Weber / USA TODAY Sports

Incoming NFL rookies don'€™t have it easy. If anyone can feel pain, it'€™s Bengals running back Giovani Bernard.

"For a lot of rookies, they come into the draft and they have to do a whole pre-combine and all that other stuff. Then they go into the draft and really never have a break until after their first season," Bernard said in an interview with

That first season in the league was a boon for Bernard, who compiled 1,209 total yards from scrimmage in his first season in Cincinnati with eight total touchdowns. And despite a frustrating opening-round playoff loss, Bernard finally earned some rest for a little bit.

"€œMy first real offseason is definitely awesome, I'€™ll say that," said Bernard, who has started to help grow football off the field with his work promoting DirecTV'€™s NFL Sunday Ticket.

But there is more work on the horizon. The Bengals lost offensive coordinator Jay Gruden in the offseason as the latter became the new head coach of the Washington Redskins. However, Cincinnati'€™s offense really didn'€™t lose a beat as running backs coach Hue Jackson was promoted to take over Gruden'€™s gig.

Bernard couldn'€™t be happier.

"I was excited and a lot of my teammates were excited because they know Hue and his energy. Now that he'€™s at a higher position, I think it'€™ll make more noise for sure."

If there'€™s one thing the Bengals have, it'€™s offensive weapons. Running backs are aplenty with Bernard, incumbent started BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman; two quality tight ends in Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert along arguably the best corps of wide receivers (AJ Green, Brandon Tate, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu) in the league.

How will Hue Jackson handle all those weapons?

"€œI just think it'€™s going to be a wild offense and I'€™m really excited. I saw the playbook and what he wants to run and what he wants to do with me and all the other guys on our team. With all the offensive weapons we have on our offensive side, it'€™s going to be a real fun season," Bernard said.

What could have Bernard even more excited is that Jackson goes against the grain when it comes to the new theory that running backs have been devalued in today'€™s NFL. The Bengals'€™ new offensive coordinator is a strong proponent of the run-first game plan.

"His main thing is running the ball because it opens up so much more," Bernard said. "If you can control the game by running the ball and continue to run the clock, it definitely helps out."

With all the firepower that does indeed reside in Cincinnati, this could be a make-or-break season for quarterback Andy Dalton. '€œThe Red Rifle'€ has faced a lot of criticism after bowing out in the NFL playoffs in the first round for the third straight season.

How fair is that criticism? It'€™s up for debate, especially considering Dalton is coming off a 2013 season when he passed for 4,293 yards with 33 touchdowns. Bernard makes it clear that the team has their QB'€™s back.

"A lot of people just blame him because he is the quarterback but it does fall on other players, it does fall on myself," Bernard said, speaking of the Bengals'€™ playoff losses.

"He'€™s definitely a leader on our team and a lot of people notice that. Even when he'€™s getting a lot of scrutiny over what'€™s been happening these past couple seasons, he'€™s still a guy who continues to play hard and continues to help us out ... there are things that didn'€™t work out for us, but Andy is a great leader and a great guy.'€

And the Bengals will need leadership, as they managed a division title in 2013, but they'€™ll be facing ever-increasing competition in the AFC North. However, as this team matures and continues to grow, the Bengals could turn into a team of leaders.

Now, if only someone could help Bernard with his automotive choices. Anyone who watched '€œHard Knocks'€ last year saw the rookie running back driving around in his girlfriend'€™s mother'€™s minivan.

Well, he finally bought a new car. BUT  ... he'€™s still driving around in the minivan.

"Hey, why not?"

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