When many look at running backs, the primary attribute they focus on is a runner’s speed, size, or sheer strength. But more often than not, a running back’s success stems from decisiveness and controlled step which allow him to take advantage of the gaps in a defense or the poor positioning of tacklers.
While it takes some running backs years to attain that controlled, decisive running style that leads to long term success, Bengals rookie Giovani Bernard has already begun to showcase those skills and prove why he deserved to be the first running back drafted in the 2013 class.
Here’s an excerpt of our report from pre-draft on Giovani Bernard:
“He is a versatile, multi-cut runner best suited for a man blocking scheme, who is not only explosive in the open field, but also a solid receiver, sound blocker, and competent inside runner who can be a drive sustainer. Though undersized, he's a complete back, who, once he learns the intricacies of NFL protection schemes, has a chance to be a three-down back. At worst, he'll be a significant contributor to a two back system, getting 15-20 touches per game, most likely paired with a bigger more physical running mate."
Bernard has certainly lived up to our pre-draft expectations, and has easily proved to be the Bengals most talented, versatile, and exciting runner, despite BenJarvus Green-Ellis still seeing his fair share of carries.
Although the Bengals weren’t victorious against the Dolphins, Bernard was one of the few bright spots on offense. AJ Green had multiple drops. Andy Dalton was forced off balance often and made poor decisions that led to interceptions. And Green-Ellis was limited to just 3.4 yards per carry.
Bernard, however, scored both of the Bengals touchdowns despite receiving just nine carries and 13 touches total. A naturally balanced and controlled runner, he consistently keeps his running base low, allowing him to plant his foot and drive when he finds openings. As a high IQ runner, Bernard rarely misses openings in a defense, and sets up his running moves with his strong lower half and ability to plant and adjust to would-be tacklers.
In the play below, you’ll see Bernard read his pulling guard’s block to attack the outside, find the unblocked linebacker that he knows he’ll need to beat, and pull off a devastating yet very controlled spin moves that turns a potential one yard gain into a near first down. While many running backs utilize spin moves, notice how he continues to gain speed through and after his spin, as he’s in perfect running position after executing the move.
As a running back, like most NFL positions, it takes the ability to improvise and have success when a play breaks down to become a truly special player. In the play below, Bernard runs right on a zone blocking play, trying to find the inside crevice that he’s designed to attack. However, the Dolphins pinch down from the backside, and Bernard slips as he tries to cut back away from them. Instead of a two yard loss, Bernard is able to regain his balance, make one tackler miss with a lateral jump cut, remain focused upfield, and slip through four defenders to navigate his way for a first down.
Bernard has continued to display the leg drive, body control, positioning and high running IQ through his rookie campaign, despite the Bengals bestowing 20 touches upon him just once this season. After suffering a knee injury in the four quarter of the team’s loss to Miami, it’s clear that he’s their best running back and arguably their second best offensive player.
He’s proven himself (as a runner and pass blocker) to be the Bengals most talented and versatile running back. And after last Thursday’s performance, he should continue to earn more and more carries over BenJarvus Green-Ellis.
As the Bengals game-plan for their next two games against AFC North foes (at Baltimore and against Cleveland the next two weeks), look for Cincinnati to get the talented rookie even more involved, despite the fact that coaching staffs are often wary of putting rookies in big spots during potential postseason runs.
However, Bernard’s performance against the Dolphins shows that they should feel he’s ready to handle all of the responsibilities their offense demands. And they’ll need him to continue to produce the rest of the way as they hope to keep this young roster battling for an AFC Championship.