After just two picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Bengals moved on two of their biggest offseason needs when they beefed up their passing game and running game in the first 37 selections. North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard followed Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert into the fold when the Bengals took him with the 37th pick as Friday night's second round unfolded.
It turned out the Bengals, who also announced a three-year deal with right tackle Andre Smith in conjunction with the announcement of the Bernard pick, addressed their three biggest concerns on offense in less than 24 hours.
"I think the offense is starting to go into the mode and to the identity that (offensive coordinator) Jay Gruden has had," said running backs coach Hue Jackson.
The offense was the lead story on a day the Bengals also attacked their lone hole on defense when they made Georgia's Shaun Williams their highest drafted safety since Madieu Williams in 2004 in the third round.
And at the end of the third round Friday night, head coach Marvin Lewis had the smile of a man walking out of a department store on Christmas Eve.
"With the addition of Tyler yesterday, the guys today with getting Andre signed and the other things we've done this offseason, when I put together my list of things that needed to get done, we've checked each of them off and that's been greet," Lewis said of Friday's work. "It was big. Running back, safety, the tight end yesterday, another defensive end (second-rounder Margus Hunt), it was an opportunity to get the team better strengthening it with quality competition, quality depth."
The 5-9, 205-pound Bernard, a redshirt sophomore after he missed his freshman season with an ACL injury, could be Cincinnati's answer to Ravens running back Ray Rice in an effort to complement the hard-charging BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Bernard has Rice's low center of gravity and excellent hands catching the ball.
When the Tar Heels switched to a spread last season, Bernard caught 47 balls for five touchdowns after he pounded out 5.3 yards per carry in a more conventional set the year before. He flashed all kinds of versatility and added two touchdowns for punt returns during his reign at Chapel Hill.
The pick shows the Bengals think he can hold up in a partnership with Green-Ellis.
"Very effective on screens and misdirection … possesses similar vision and run instincts and even better hands (than Rice and Maurice Jones-Drew)," according to Pro Football Weekly's draft review. "He does not run with the same tackling-breaking power, urgency, or body lean … instant impact utility back who could wear down in fast if thrust into an every-down role."
Jackson disputes the notion that Bernard is just a specialty back and the numbers back up his belief he's a three-down player. Bernard had 515 touches in his 23 games, good for 22.3 per game.
"I think he's a complete player," Jackson said. "If anything were to happen, this guy could carry the load. I really think he can. I watched every game he played this year and worked him out. He has that skill set he can be an every-down player."
Bernard is smart enough to know that his smarts help allow him to be valuable as a plug-in-anywhere guy. In the end, that's what made him the draft's top back.
"Just a guy that's a well-rounded running back. A guy that, wherever he needs to be, that's where he's going to be," Bernard said. "You can put me in any type of situation, plug me in any type of offense, and I'll execute. I'm a smart guy, a guy that's going to hit the playbook and understand what he is going to have to do. And I'm a guy that is going to accept his role, whatever that role is."
It was a wild half-hour before the Bernard pick as Bengals executive Katie Blackburn finished off the hard negotiations with Smith that he even described as a slug while the Bengals mulled the top of the board.
But whether it was because Smith was in the building signing his deal or what, the Bengals didn't mull for long. Former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tim Krumrie and his cowboy hat showed up quickly on the stage in New York to make the alumni pick. The Bengals had a shot at bigger backs, like Alabama's Eddie Lacy and Michigan State's Le'Veon Bell, before he went to the Steelers. In fact, they could have had any back because Bernard, even to his surprise, was the first back taken.
(NFL Network's Mike Mayock cited late in the second round medical reports that he felt were hurting Lacy's bid and he eventually went to the Packers with the 61st pick.)
"Yeah, but I believe in the gifts that God gave me," Bernard said of his surprise. "There are a lot of great backs out there. You really can't do much but leave it in God's hands. I guess you can say he really took care of me today."
Also figuring into the selection was that Bernard's versatility fit Cincinnati's scheme better than the other backs when it came to running routes and pass protection.
"When you look at what we do on offense, we're looking for guys that would fit what we do," Jackson said. "Not just run and catch it, but you also have to be able to pass protect. You have to be multi-faceted and this young man has that skill set."
In Bernard the Bengals think they've got their most elusive back in years, as well as one of their most accomplished route-runners out of the backfield in some time. Plus, he's a nice changeup to the hard-charging Law Firm.
"I definitely know about (the Bengals running backs). Like the Law Firm. I was actually on Twitter, and we had a chance to talk a little bit through that," Bernard said. "I saw that he saw my film, and he said he thought I would be a good fit in the orange, black and white. For me, that's just a blessing. As someone who has already been through it to say that about a guy that's not even in the league yet. It's definitely a blessing."
Always looking for a little more sizzle, Jackson thinks Bernard has it.
"We're very fortunate today to draft a guy that I think brings something different and special to the room," Jackson said. "He's a threat every time he touches it, whether he's running it or catching it. He has the ability to do things maybe a little bit different than what we've seen in the past."
Reports are that Smith signed a three-year deal for $18 million, which means that the sides pretty much split the difference between the $7 million for left tackles and the $5 million or so the right tackles were getting.
Smith, who followed head coach Marvin Lewis to the podium after the Bernard pick, smiled wearily when asked about the negotiations. He said the sides traded punches, "but we won because I'm back in Cincinnati."
Smith said the threat of the Bengals drafting a tackle didn't have an impact on his decision, although the Bengals clearly moved their offer. He indicated he was ready to sign when he left his home in Birmingham, Ala., Thursday night and drove to Lexington, Ky., in time to watch the first round.
"It was just time," he said.