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Band on the run

Posted Aug 30, 2013

The gag is that the Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard to be their new short-yardage back after the 5-9, 208-pound rookie slammed it over from the 1 to start Cincinnati's scoring in Thursday night's 27-10 victory over the Colts.


Giovani Bernard

The gag is that the Bengals drafted Giovani Bernard to be their new short-yardage back after the 5-9, 208-pound rookie slammed it over from the 1 to start Cincinnati's scoring in Thursday night's 27-10 victory over the Colts at Paul Brown Stadium in the preseason finale.

That marked Bernard's third one-yard scoring run this season it and it got him thinking about a guy he knew in college.

"A.J. Blue," Bernard said of his North Carolina teammate. "Every time we got close they put him in there. He was a big back. We'll see how it goes in the regular season."

If it goes like this in the regular season the Bengals are going to lead the NFL in rushing, which would presumably put them in the elite team category considering all their weapons in the passing game at offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's disposal.

"That's his big thing is run first," Bernard said, "and the play-action creates the passes."

For the third time in the preseason the Bengals had more runs than passes (38-24) and they won all three while finishing with 175.8 rushing yards per game. On Thursday they piled up 191 with three running backs gaining at least 37 yards.

And the team's leading rusher for the night (51 yards on 12 carries) and for the preseason (167 yards on 31 carries) as an NFL leader may not even make the club with Daniel Herron locked up tight with rookie Rex Burkhead for the fourth and final running back spot.

"We don't have to send that message. That's already understood. Everybody knows that," said BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who really is the big back, about the running game. "I'm always happy when we get out there and we're getting physical with guys. That's what it's going to take. We've got 16 games. We're playing the NFC North. They're not a joke to play with. We've got our hands full this year."

There is some discomfort. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee) has yet to take a snap in a game. The Bengals lost five of six fumbles. Their rookie tight end Tyler Eifert (wrist) didn't play the last two games, although he says he'll be ready in nine days for the opener in Chicago.

But that's nothing that 5.4 yards per carry can't cure, which is how the Bengals finished the preseason. All three offensive lines dished it and on Thursday on that first drive the first group made sure that quarterback Andy Dalton wouldn't suffer the Red Scare of last season's preseason finale when he got his throwing hand jammed and had to leave.

"Being the fourth preseason game, what better way to come out than run plays like that? Run right downhill," said center Kyle Cook. "Obviously, you're not going to have Andy sit back in the pocket and something silly happens. He's our leader and he's the guy who's going to lead us during the season. There's no reason we had to sit back there and pass it the way we were running it. We did what we wanted to do. We went down the field and scored."

Not knowing if Whitworth will be available for Chicago is a bit uneasy, but Cook pointed to the play of backup left tackle Anthony Collins.

"He's been around almost as long as I have (six years)," said Cook, who has been here since 2007. "It's not like he's some new guy. He's good to go and hopefully Whit will be back."

The running game showed how some of these roster battles on offense may play out. While Herron shined, Burkhead kept up with a 4.6 yards per carry average on 28 carries, and on Thursday night showed the versatility the Bengals think may give them a Brian Leonard-type who is better.

On the drive he scored a two-yard TD in the third quarter on a stretch play to the left, Burkhead kept it going when he converted a fourth-and-one from the Colts 16 with nice body lean for a two-yard gain. Then he ran a pivot route and got it to the 2 on a 10-yard catch. He also caught a screen pass for nine yards as well to go along with his 39 yards on 11 carries.

"I got to show a little bit of versatility," Burkhead said. "I feel like I had a good camp. I felt like I improved in the preseason games with experience. Hopefully the coaches liked it."

Another reason the Bengals ran it a bunch Thursday night was to have John Conner and Orson Charles decide the fullback spot. Conner was impressive with a traditional lead block he does so well on both TD runs by Bernard and Burkhead. But even though he dropped the one pass thrown to him, Charles showed his value of being able to play both fullback and tight end.

With Eifert sitting out, the Bengals were still able to go with three tight ends on Bernard's scoring run when Charles joined Jermaine Gresham and Alex Smith while Conner lined up in front of Bernard.

"Obviously, we are two different kinds of players," Conner said. "He has done a great job of coming over from tight end. He is more of an H-back kind of guy, and I am more of a side fullback. It kind of goes by what this offense needs and what we need at the moment. I hope I did everything that I could to make this team.”

What this offense needs at this moment seems to be a couple of more balls. And that's not even talking about the passing game.

"I feel good going into the opener," Green-Ellis said. "I feel like our team is getting our health back and I think we'll be ready to roll. I think it's going to be a big year for us."

 

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