The Cincinnati Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard out of North Carolina last year in order to give the offense a change-of-pace back who could provide an added dimension. He did that and then some, but before the team would trust him to get significant touches, he had to improve his toughness.
That was evident in training camp on Hard Knocks, as the veterans made sure Bernard felt what it was like to get hit hard by an NFL player. But Bernard didn't back down, and that ultimately earned him the team's respect faster as he eventually became the lead back.
That impressed new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and showed he was ready for the NFL:
"He wanted more of it," Jackson said at the scouting combine this weekend. "It was me who was trying to get those guys to pull up because we didn't want to get anybody hurt. But that's the beautiful part of it, in my mind. That was like them saying, 'OK, you're here and you're supposed to help us win? Let's find out.'
"And he passed the test."
"I remember those guys on defense coming up to me one day in stretch. There was Rey Maualuga, we're talking about Vontaze Burfict, and even some of the defensive linemen. They were all saying, 'Hey, Coach. That guy can play.'
He even butted heads with Pro Bowl linebacker Vontaze Burfict, whom he was warned not to mess with.
"Don't get in a fight with Burfict, he'll kick your [butt]," Jay Gruden said to Bernard.
Bernard responded: "That's OK, it's only going to make me tough."
Indeed it did as he become one of the league's best dual-purpose backs, rushing for 695 yards and catching 56 passes for another 512 and was a finalist for the NFL Rookie of the Year award.
But he did so on just 226 touches. As for how much more playing time he'll get in 2014:
"He's going to have a lot," Jackson said, smiling. "I can promise you."