Mark Dolejs-US PRESSWIRE
On Friday I was able to get some one-on-one time with former North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard and he reassured me that he can carry the load for an NFL team in the AFC North.
INDIANAPOLIS -- On Friday, as former college quarterbacks, wide receivers and running backs filtered into the media room at the 2013 NFL Combine, former North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard sat down at one of several tables in the room and answered questions from reporters from every corner of the country. After things died down a little and members of the press began wondering to the other big-name prospects around the room, I was able to get some one-on-one time with Bernard. I asked him specifically what kind of running back he pictured himself being in the NFL.
"I want to be able to fit in wherever they want to put me," Bernard said. "My biggest thing is just getting my feet on the field. The biggest thing is you want to be able to do everything. You don't want to limit yourself from doing something. If they want me to be a third-down back, I'll be that. If they want me to be a first and second-down back, I'll be that. I'm always going to strive to be the No. 1 guy, but at the same time I'll know my place and I'll know my role on the team."
The 2013 running back class is fairly deep and diverse. Bernard, along with Eddie Lacy, Montee Ball and Marcus Lattimore have commanded most of the attention so far. While the class is deep, some question whether there's a first-down back in this year's draft class remain. Lacy seems to be the first-round option and Bernard is right behind him.
The Bengals have made it clear that they not only want a running back to complement BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but that they want a "complement-plus," meaning that they want a back that can not only complement Green-Ellis, but one that can carry the load, if needed. Green-Ellis is under contract through 2014 and the Bengals hope that whatever running back they draft, if they do draft one, can equally carry the torch if needed while providing a spell for Green-Ellis, who may figure into a more short-yardage role.
What makes the Bengals decision a tough one is the division they play in. No team makes it easy to run against them, but when an offense plays the Steelers, Ravens and Browns six times in a season, running the ball can be tough. In 2012, the Bengals only had 100 or more yards on the ground once against their own division, averaging 71 yards on the ground against AFC North defenses. Since the best way to get to the playoffs is to win in your own division, the Bengals obviously need to fix the problem.
Many believe that the best option for a team looking for an every-down back is Lacy. He's built like a truck and he seems to be a typical Alabama running back in the mold of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. However, Bernard said that he's perfectly capable of being an every-down back, even if he happens to come to Cincinnati.
"Being physical is the biggest thing about being a running back," Bernard said. "You wan to be able to be physical and churn out those yards on first and second down. It makes it a lot easier for an offensive coordinator if you make it second-and-five. So it makes it a lot easier for an offensive coordinator to really call the plays. So for me, I want to be able to be the every-down back and I'm going to strive to be the every-down back I think I am. Hopefully Cincinnati, or whatever other team, the other 31 teams out there see me as an every-down back. Whatever team I end up, I'll be happy."
In his two years at North Carolina, Bernard rushed for over 2,400 yards and scored 25 touchdowns. He also caught six touchdown passes. There is still a lot of time between now and the draft and a lot can happen. Bernard did say that he would work out fully in the Combine on Sunday, so we'll get a good look at him. He said he hopes to run the 40-yard dash in the 4.4 to 4.5 range.
Follow me on Twitter @JGarrisonSBN for complete Combine coverage from Indianapolis.