Giovani Bernard was the first running back selected in his draft class in 2013, and he was recently made the first of the group to receive a contract extension, recently inking three more years onto his deal to stay with the Cincinnati Bengals through the 2019 season.
In spite of the fact that he has had three productive seasons, however, he was paid far from a standard starting running back. Of course, that’s because he’s not a starting running back, and, in a somewhat unusual move in this era of the game, it’s a role that he embraces.
A year after taking Bernard, the Bengals drafted Jeremy Hill in the second round, a 230-pound head of steam who over the course of the past two seasons has actually accumulated 73 more touches, and 123 more rushing attempts.
The Bengals are as committed as any team in the league to working a true two-running-back platoon, and the reason that they are able to do that is because both of those players embrace the dynamic that they bring to the offense, and that they bring to each other, while understanding the role that the division of labor plays in the greater good, for both the team and for themselves.
Bernard talked about his role after signing his extension, telling Geoff Hobson for the team’s website that “the biggest thing [about my workload] has been they’re taking care of me as far as not running me into the ground. That’s been good”, said the 5’9”, 205-pound back.
“What we’re doing in Cincinnati has really helped me out”, he said. “Keeping me fresh is helping out Jeremy as well”. Staying healthy and staying fresh proved to be a theme in the discussion, as he went on to say that “the biggest thing for me is keeping my body fresh”, knowing, he said, that “I’m going to get touches throughout the year”.
Over his three-year career, Bernard has totaled 492 carries and 148 receptions trending toward roughly a three-to-one ratio of carries versus receptions. He has rushed for 2015 yards on 4.3 yards per carry while adding 1335 receiving yards at nine yards per clip.
Does it matter to him in what form his touches come? Certainly not, he says, telling Hobson that “it doesn’t have to be all runs. It doesn’t have to be all passes. It’s just a combination of the two and that’s kind of what’s been driving my career and hopefully it will continue to”.
For as much as he brings to the game, the Bengals feel that there is something else about Bernard that is most important, as head coach Marvin Lewis points out in saying, “he’s rare in a lot of ways, but the character of the man is the most important”.
That statement came at the end of his characterizing Bernard as a player understanding of his role in the team and what it means for both himself and the group of players he is a part of, and how important it has been to have players such as him who are able to see beyond their own role. It all sort of helps make sense of the fact that his extension seemingly got done so readily.