Bengals' Bernard readying for more
MAY 21, 2014 3:03p ET
CINCINNATI -- Giovani Bernard doesn't care where or how you get him the football, just that he's able to get it. That's not a selfish thing. Any football player whose job is to handle the ball, make yards, move the chains and score touchdowns is going to tell you they don't care how they get the job accomplished.
It's just that Bernard has a more electrifying way of going about things.
Bernard ran the ball 170 times for nearly 700 yards and five touchdowns, including his whirling dervish impression against Miami that resulted in the world's longest 35-yard scoring play. He also caught 56 passes -- more than any other Bengals running back in franchise history -- for another 514 yards and three touchdowns.
Most of those receptions came out of the backfield but new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has said he'll use Bernard any way/shape possible if it will benefit the offense. He can be used as a traditional tailback. You can get him the ball on designed swing passes or last-gasp dump-offs. Line him up in the slot or out wide. It's not that he wasn't used in that manner last season but in Year 2 even more can be expected.
How can putting the ball in Bernard's hands not be a benefit?
"It's just a matter of now I can do that a little more," said Bernard on Wednesday. "Whatever it is, if I have the ball in my hands, if I get the ball I'm always happy. I can't complain."
The running backs room got a little tighter with the addition of second-round draft choice Jeremy Hill. It's the second year in a row the Bengals have taken a running back in the second round but unlike last year when Bernard was drafted to be a complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Hill was drafted to eventually take over Green-Ellis' role.
That could be this season, although it is not a given. The Bengals could find a way to utilize all three of those backs this season and Green-Ellis' influence in a running backs room can't be understated.
Bernard's influence on opposing defenses can't be understated.
According to ProFootballFocus.com, only twice in 79 targets was Bernard thrown to 10 yards or more beyond the line of scrimmage. Translation: the Bengals got the ball to Bernard as quickly as possible. The website tracks different stats, including missed tackles forced and yards after first contact (YAC) with a defender. Bernard was 15th in YAC among running backs, averaging an extra 2.26 yards gained every time he touched the ball.
He was 24th in total missed tackles forced when running the ball but of those ranked ahead of him, only Trent Richardson of Indianapolis and Joique Bell of Detroit had fewer rushing attempts than Bernard. Bernard was second with 20 missed tackles forced on receptions, trailing only Kansas City's Jamaal Charles. Charles forced just two more missed tackles on 14 more receptions.
Bernard was ranked 10th among all running backs in PFF's elusive ratings, a formula designed to quantify how tough it is to bring a ball carrier down.
It's verification of what watching Bernard live already shows you.
"I didn't do anything great, I didn't do anything bad. There is always room to improve. I try to set my bar really high and concern myself down there so I have a lot to reach," said Bernard. "I didn't think I did anything great. Just helping the team. People may think I did something cool. Fine."
At 5-feet-9, 208 pounds, Bernard isn't the prototypical NFL back in terms of handing him off the ball 20-25 times a game but he proved he could handle running the ball inside the tackles. Jackson's offense isn't going to change drastically from that of former coordinator Jay Gruden but early indications are that Jackson wants to increase the offensive tempo and run more plays per game.
More plays in total equates to more times Bernard gets a chance to handle the football.
"At the end of the day every coach, every offensive coordinator, has their plays where they want a certain player to be in this certain area," said Bernard. "It's not so much how they get to that area, it's more so to get to that point so if I'm coming out of the backfield to get to that spot or coming out from the slot to get to that spot, it's really the same thing."
The Bengals are still in the conditioning phase of their offseason workout program. They begin their voluntary organized team activities (OTA) next week. They'll have three weeks in which coaches can put players through on-field practices plus a mandatory mini-camp June 10-12. The first training camp practice is tentatively scheduled for July 24.
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