Rookie Giovani Bernard gives Bengals a much different look at running back
CINCINNATI – Giovani Bernard lined up in the backfield, caught a short pass and made a quick plant-and-cut move to avoid a linebacker and head into the open field.
The Bengals have a much different look with their rookie running back.
Cincinnati has tried for years to get more of a pass-catching threat in their backfield. Bernard, a second-round pick from North Carolina, has provided it during training camp.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis is still the featured back after running for a career-high 1,094 yards last season. But Bernard could wind up with a lot of plays, providing a different running style and another target for quarterback Andy Dalton's passes.
"Giovani Bernard has what we're looking for," coach Marvin Lewis said. "He'll be a great complement to BenJarvus. BenJarvus is a prideful man. He'll be hard to displace."
One of the Bengals' priorities in training camp is to figure out how the two fit together in one spot.
The Bengals have featured a power running back the last five years in Cedric Benson and Green-Ellis, who signed last season. They were hoping that Bernard Scott could share the job and provide more of an outside running threat, but he hurt his hand and ankle and tore his ACL last year. He's not fully recovered from the knee surgery.
Green-Ellis caught 22 passes last season but averaged only 4.7 yards per catch. Bernard had 47 catches for an average of 10.4 yards last season at North Carolina.
"Obviously what sets him apart and why we really were drawn to him was his quickness out of the backfield as far as catching the ball," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said.
Gruden's job is to figure out how to share the position. Asked if he knows his role yet, Bernard said, "I really don't know. I'm just kind of going out there and learning everything."
Green-Ellis has a slow start last season, especially with the offensive line in flux because of injuries. He failed to run for 100 yards in each of the first nine games, then topped 100 four times in a five-game stretch.
"It was back and forth," Green-Ellis said. "It was up-down, like the stock market. That's what we were the first half of the season, and then we kind of became like the Dow Jones of old at the end of it."
He was especially good on short yardage carries. He notched a first down on 14 of his 15 carries when it was third-and-1, the best conversion ratio in the league.
Given Green-Ellis' success, Bernard knows that he's going to be the backup heading into the season.
"He's a big bruiser," Bernard said. "He's still a guy that can catch the ball out of the backfield and he can get outside as well. Adding my speed and my shiftiness or whatever helps him out a little bit, so he doesn't have to take as much pounding on his body.
"But at the end of the day, he is the leader in our running back group. I know he is the leader and I have to follow his footsteps."
NOTES: Right tackle Andre Smith was cleared to practice on Monday after missing the first four days of camp with a strained calf. Smith missed all of the offseason workouts and a mandatory minicamp because of a personal matter. ... Long snapper Bryce Davis and receiver Brandon Tate also were cleared to practice fully for the first time. ... The Bengals have a day off on Tuesday.
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