Whether you were fond of the idea or not, the Cincinnati Bengals were going to give rookie running back Giovani Bernard a lot of work of Thursday night's preseason opener. Some fans had the images of Ki-Jana Carter and Kenny Irons dance in their heads and cringed at the thought of one of their prized rookies getting a lot of work on a turf surface. Breathe easy, Bengals fans--Bernard came out of it fine and showed a lot of reasons while he'll be a valuable member of this team in years to come.
My guess is that Bernard had to be one tired and sore dude on Friday, given the amount of workload that he received. As expected, the Bengals used Bernard as a traditional back, a receiver and a returner. And, for the most part, he did well in all three areas.
As a running back, Bernard had ten carries for only 28 yards. Not exactly great numbers, but he did have a touchdown and a few nice gains. What impressed me with Bernard as a runner on Thursday night was his willingness to lower his shoulder and finish some runs. He also had a couple of goal line carries (in which he scored on one) which diminishes a runner's yards per carry average.
The one thing that I noticed that the young back needs to learn about the NFL game is the overall speed. At times, Bernard seemed to want to bounce a big run outside like he was used to doing at the University of North Carolina, but it wasn't always there. He'll need to keep the opposing defense honest by showing the ability to run well between the tackles and then popping one outside.
In the receiving game, he performed well. He amassed three catches on five targets in the game, which included a 16-yarder that almost converted a third and 20. Again, in this aspect, he'll need to be a better judge on the speed of the defense, but one can see that he will be a catalyst in this aspect.
Though we don't expect him to take the job from a number of people in front of him, Bernard had a decent run on his lone punt return opportunity. Though it wasn't Sanzenbacher-esque, Bernard had a quality ten-yarder to show what he can do there as well.
Though it wasn't an absolutely outstanding opening performance by Bernard, you can see how he will become a valuable member to this team. There is no doubt that he and the tight ends will be nice third down security blankets for Andy Dalton in the passing game, as well as a nice change of pace to the north-south style of BenJarvus Green-Ellis.