Don't expect increase in Bernard's touches

November, 7, 2013
11/07/13
6:00
PM ET
CINCINNATI -- Jay Gruden's message to Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard after the rookie's weaving, juking, stumbling, field-reversing, tackle-breaking 35-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter of last Thursday's game at Miami was a simple one.

Do it again.

And again. And again. And again.

As much as some coaches might be hesitant about continually watching their youngest players ad lib long, circuitous running plays on the fly, there are others like Gruden, the Bengals' offensive coordinator, who don't want that creativity stifled. As long as shifty runners like Bernard are gaining yards and not losing them while they dance around opposing defenders, all -- in Gruden's eyes -- is forgiven.

"As soon as you start telling a guy like that where to run and how to run, you put handcuffs on him and he becomes ordinary," Gruden said. "We will take the bad with the good and hopefully great comes out of it."

[+] EnlargeCincinnati's Giovani Bernard
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesRookie running back Giovani Bernard has shown an early ability to produce highlight-level plays.
Through nine games, Bernard has been pretty great for the Bengals.

A fantasy football hero, the yard-piling, touchdown-gaining first-year back has put countless smiles on the faces of general managers of fictitious Internet teams. A big-play threat who already has three edge-of-your-seat type scores, Bernard has left many a Bengals fan's jaw dropped after his more memorable runs this season.

It's all been enough for people from here to South Florida to Chapel Hill, N.C., to request he be given the ball more and more and more.

They shouldn't hold their breath, though.

"People make a big deal about how many times we throw it to A.J. [Green] or not throw it to A.J., or how many times Gio gets it or not gets it. I try to go with the flow of the game and try not to vary calls, but obviously, when Gio's in there, I know when he's in there," Gruden said. "Eventually, he might get more. We'll see how it goes, but I'm fine with [the current rotation]."

As the 6-3 Bengals enter a Week 10 showdown at Baltimore, Bernard has compiled 361 yards on 81 carries. He's also caught 30 passes for 267 yards, and has ended up in the end zone six times total as both a running back and receiver. He's averaging 9.0 carries a game, and 3.3 receptions. As he has shown at times this season, any of the balls he catches or takes on handoffs could turn into long, highlight-reel worthy scores.

Gruden knows that.

"I try to get him some touches, whether it's out of the backfield as a receiver or in runs," Gruden said. "But he's proven that the more he touches it, the more dangerous he is. He's still a rookie, and [head] Coach [Marvin] Lewis has done a good job of building up the pace that he wants."

For now, that pace includes keeping Bernard right around his nine-rush, three-catch average.

"To say we're going to give the ball to Gio 25 times each week is unrealistic," Gruden said. "He needs some spelling and he needs a bigger back like BenJarvus [Green-Ellis] to take 10, 12, 15 carries a game.

"I think 85 or 90 percent of the teams in the league have two or three running backs that they use. So it's important to have two or three. These games are physical, man. These 16 games, and then playing a Thursday and a Sunday and then you got to go to Baltimore and Cleveland, I mean, it's nonstop."

As the Bengals try to save their youngest back, their eldest, Green-Ellis, has had a bigger impact on keeping Bernard going than he gets credit for in Gruden's mind.

[+] EnlargeGiovani Bernard
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsGiovani Bernard has accounted for 621 yards and six touchdowns as a rusher/receiver.
While Green-Ellis' 3.2 yards per carry mark doesn't have quite the same ferocity, nor turn the same number of heads as Bernard's 4.5 average, his yards have still been quite meaningful, the coordinator believes. Those yards also have had a positive impact on Bernard, he feels.

"He has different carries that Gio has," Gruden said of Green-Ellis. "He has a lot of the first-down carries and a lot of short-yardage carries, so maybe his numbers are skewed a little bit, but he's still a tough runner inside and does a good job with pass protection. People see the flash runs that Gio gets us, but the meat-and-potatoes runs that Benny has, he's had good runs also. You don't want to discount Benny for what he's done just because Gio had a couple of really special runs.

"We only have one ball. We're trying to spread it out. The big thing is when your number is called to take advantage of it and that's the one thing Gio has done every time his number has been called so far."

As much as Bernard wanted to celebrate his Barry Sanders-esque touchdown run that got the Bengals back in last week's game, he couldn't. The play may have been a big one, but it still was part of a loss. There weren't the "oohs" and "ahhs" in the running backs' meeting room earlier this week that there may have been had the result on the scoreboard been reversed.

"The biggest thing for a running back is getting into the end zone, no matter how you have to do it," Bernard said.

If that means running backwards for 6 yards and reversing field and fending off tackles in order to gain 35 before flipping forwards across the goal line for a score, then so be it.

After all, his coach won't be making him second-guess that formula if that's what it takes to win.

"You just have to feel comfortable with what you're doing, like Barry Sanders in his time," Bernard said. "He was one of those who lost a lot of yards to gain a lot of yards. There's times when it's going to be like that, but the biggest thing is getting positive yards."

The more of those Bernard compiles, the more he eventually will become the premier back in the Bengals' two-man rotation. For now, though, it's all about sharing for he and Green-Ellis.

Coley Harvey

ESPN Cincinnati Bengals reporter

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