Giovani Bernard And Rex Burkhead To Compete For Third-Down Role

Scott Cunningham

The Bengals easily have their one-two punch defined with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard. Who then will be the team's third-down back?

Selecting two running backs during last week's 2013 NFL draft improved overall talent to a roster that already included BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Bernard Scott (who may go on PUP) and Cedric Peerman. Obviously Green-Ellis is your workhorse, short-yardage back while second-round selection Bernard Giovani should easily land as a backup/change-of-pace player. Undefined are the roles of everyone else, especially third-down back scenarios.

Giovani Bernard, even playing the role of backup, makes sense but sixth-round back Rex Burkhead will be considered.

Career receptions in college:
Giovani Bernard Rex Burkhead
REC. 92 60
YRDS 852 507
TDs 6 5

Both players will have an opportunity to claim the third-down back role, according to Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden.

"We had a need and we filled it with two guys. Bernard and Burkhead are both good in that role," Gruden says. "They'll be competing for the third-down spot."

Along with being a decent receiver out of the backfield, forcing linebackers to spread out across underneath zones that naturally opens lanes over the middle, third-down backs are also tasked with the uneventful task of blocking.

And in that, Giovani may hold the advantage.

"Willing to stick his face on blitzing linebacker," ESPN writes in their predraft scouting reports. "Gets in position, uses leverage and keeps his feet moving in pass pro." However ESPN adds that Giovani is "consistently overmatched at point of attack due to marginal size and strength."

ESPN's predraft report is less accommodating for Burkhead as a blocker. "Flashes the ability to cut legs out from under defenders but struggles to sustain when he tries to face up blitzing linebackers. Has had problems locating blitzers and picking up assignments."

The beauty is that the Bengals can throw away the negative reports (but also the positive one) and find out how these players fit, starting next weekend with the rookie minicamp.

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