Gio Bernard's Versatility Putting Stress On Bengals Defense

Joe Robbins

When Gio Bernard was taken as the first overall running back in the 2013 NFL Draft, it was due to two things - running ability and receiving ability.

Bengals 37th overall pick Giovani Bernard has been putting stress on defenses ever since he attended St. Thomas Aquinas High School. As a playmaker who can run and catch exceptionally well, naturally he has been a nightmare for defenses - in preparation and in games.

Offensive Coordinator Jay Gruden likes what he has seen from Bernard so far, and says, "He has done a great job in space". Cornerback Leon Hall, now having fully returned at OTAs, has been impressed with Bernard, and thinks his game transitions well, according to Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com.

"I was talking to Hue about how quick (Bernard) is, and shifty. He’s real elusive. You can tell when a guy puts on the pads he’s going to look the same," Hall said. "He just seems like one of those guys who can just transition real easily, as far as from OTAs into training camp into the season."

Opposing defenses will have to study Gio Bernard extensively in their weekly gameplan, thanks to his ability to lineup anywhere.

"When you've got a guy like that, it's somebody you really have to talk about and someone you have to be wary of on third down. Be smart about where he lines up. And it's something you focus on. You have to spend time on it during the week," Hall said. "Obviously there are only so many hours in the day during the season to squeeze that stuff in. It just makes it harder as that little extra feature for the offense.

Naturally, this opens things up for the offensive side. Linebackers will have a tough time keeping up with Bernard, while bringing another defensive back on the field or bringing down safeties opens up the running game and deep balls.

"As a defense, obviously you don't want to put a DB on him because they can run the ball and the DB is sitting there in the box. That definitely puts a lot of pressure on the linebackers and maybe a safety dropping down in the box."

Not only does this help the running game, it forces coverage mismatches too. This can be particularly taxing on a defense when combined with the no huddle. Dalton, thanks to his intellect and ability to audible effectively, loves the tempo of the no huddle and the pressure it puts on defenses.

"Last year we did no-huddle with three receivers; now we can do it with two tight ends," Dalton said Monday. "With Gio, we can even go empty (no backs). There are just so many different things we can do now. You're just trying to maximize your talents. There's definitely more things you can do in no-huddle with those two guys."

It should be a good year for the Bengals offense. It appears Jay Gruden has finally gotten his pieces together and formed a true offensive identity.

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