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Bengals’ coaches are confident in Giovani Bernard and Mark Walton stepping up vs. Panthers

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The Bengals will be without Joe Mixon, but the coaches seem to think their backups will be able to cover for him.

Carolina Panthers v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Bengals got some sobering news after Thursday night’s game.

Joe Mixon needed a minor surgery on his knee that would cause him to miss at least two games.

Then, Tra Carson hurt his hamstring in preparation for the Cincinnati’s game against Carolina on Sunday. That caused the team to waive him and sign Thomas Rawls as an emergency back. What was once a deep position for the Bengals is suddenly on its last leg.

However, Giovani Bernard, who is going to become the feature back in Mixon’s absence, isn’t worried about the extra playing time.

“I mean, I’m not like an ice cube. It’s not like I’m not going to die or something. Its football,” Bernard told Geoff Hobson of Bengals.com. “Guys are going to go down and the next man has to step up at the end of the day, and it’s my opportunity to go out there and play football like I do every Sunday.

“Whatever play I get, I’m a running back, so inside, outside, don’t really matter. Just when you get the ball in your hands, make a play.”

Bernard should have all the confidence in the world. He is one of the most veteran players on the offensive side of the ball. He was drafted in 2012, and has been a productive member with his limited role ever since. He has rarely been given the spotlight as the starter in his career.

In fact, Bernard has only started 12 games in his entire career. Most of those starts came in 2014 when he started over rookie running back Jeremy Hill for the first seven games.

Bernard still has an extreme amount of confidence from his coaches, although they don’t want him to carry the load alone.

“Most games you should consider it’s going to take more than one back. I think it’s fair,” offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said. “But I don’t look at Gio any differently. To me the guy’s a warrior. Coming off the knee surgery two years ago and what he did last year, I just think he’s a warrior.

“He’s really physically unique being able to do that with his stature, to play the way he plays. He finishes runs, he doesn’t run out of bounds, he doesn’t go down easily. I think he’s a warrior. I have great respect for him. Do we have to be smart with him? Absolutely. But no different than with any starting running back.”

The fact Bernard didn’t start last season on the PUP list tells you how tough he is. His 2016 season ended in Week 11 with an ACL injury. That usually takes players around a year to come back from. Bernard only took a fraction of that as he suited up Week 1.

Bernard often gets generalized as a change-of-pace back, but he has shown the ability to run in between the tackles regularly. It could be that people see how good he is in space and assume that, but he is just as likely to beat a team running behind the guard and center as outside.

That is what make Bernard so deadly to prepare for. The Bengals can line him up anywhere and run any play with him. We should see all of Bernard’s bag of tricks come Sunday.

We should also see the premiere of Mark Walton, the Bengals fourth-round pick. The rookie had a rocky preseason, but he is confident that he has learned from his mistakes in exhibition play.

“I was kind of hesitating and second-guessing myself, and I would start waiting for the cutback,” Walton said. “In college, I had a lot of cutbacks and that’s what I thought I was going to bring here, but cutbacks are very rare here in this league so you’ve just got to take what you can get from the defense.”

Hopefully, Walton shows how much he has learned in his limited role on Sunday.