The emergence of Jeremy Hill has been fun to witness for Cincinnati Bengals fans. Last year, the Bengals running back rushed for 1,124 yards on 222 carries. He led not only all rookies, but all running backs in yards gained on the ground in the second half of the 2014 season. However, his emergence leaves Giovani Bernard, another superb talent on the Bengals' offense, with new questions – the best kind of questions a team can have.
When you have such a fantastic duo, how do you involve both players in the offense as much as possible?
The easy answer would be to rotate them both in a run-by-committee approach – very much reminiscent of how the New York Giants used Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw several years ago. However, is that really the most effective option?
I would argue against it. Yes, I want to see both running backs get their due carries, as they will. Yes, I think both will have successful seasons in their own right. But when you have a situation such as this, something has to give – compromise becomes less of an issue and more of a welcomed necessity.
Both Hill and Bernard have very different running styles. For his heavy outlook, Hill combines a bruising persona with both excellent and unexpected acceleration between the tackles. Bernard wields an entirely different skill-set. Taking on the approach of Bradshaw on another tier, he uses crafty speed around the edges and a unique pass-catching ability out of the backfield to give the Bengals' offense another level of depth.
To maximize the ability of both backs, it may be time to reevaluate just how successful Bernard can be as a slot receiver.
Since he joined the Bengals, Bernard has acted as a viable safety valve for Andy Dalton. While he's been a successful speed back, he's arguably had more success on catches in the flats, quick screens, and short routes out of his running back position past the pass rush.
To involve him as a partially designated slot receiver for the Bengals, the team creates the most potential for having both weapons on the field at the same time, which is the end-game the offense needs.
Bernard has accumulated 863 receiving yards during the last two years, averaging close to 30 yards receiving per game, in 29 games played. 30 may not seem like a significant number to some, but as a running back, it's certainly enough to turn heads.
Alternating him in a slot receiver role expands the Bengals' playbook in a way that simply builds off of what Dalton has already become comfortably been doing – finding Bernard on five yards passes and giving him as much open field as possible. Check out his 28 yard catch-and-run for a touchdown against the Steelers in Week 2 of 2013 (around the 50 second mark here). See where he struts into the end zone around the corner?
Now wouldn't we love to see a bit more of that?