Gio, run game start out tall

Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon are co-chairmen of the Committee to Restore The Run Game.
Giovani Bernard and Joe Mixon are co-chairmen of the Committee to Restore The Run Game.

Not all that long ago Giovani Bernard saw a picture of himself and was horrified at his slouch. Vowing to improve his posture, he has eschewed the customary stools all but three Bengals prefer to sit on in front of their lockers and has opted for a customized folding chair emblazoned with his name and No. 25.

"I got the name of the company from them and e-mailed them," said Bernard of punter Kevin Huber and long snapper Clark Harris, the Bengals' other two chairmen. "You look around and you see everyone slouched over their phones."

Bernard's posture in the Bengals' offense needs no such improvement as he heads into his sixth season. A 100-yard game shy of 3,000 rushing yards, Bernard and his running back ancestor James Brooks are the only players in franchise history with both 2,000 yards rushing and receiving. It may surprise you he's got more rushing yards than Archie Griffin and Jeremy Hill, but don't be surprised when he matches his career high of 730 yards in 2015 he'll be seventh on the all-time rushing list.

Don't be surprised because while Bernard is in his second season off an amazing sci-fish-Cyborg-like rehab from an ACL reconstruction, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor is coming off an offseason he has surgically-repaired a running game just as badly damaged. Bernard and Joe Mixon, two of the most talented guys on the roster, found themselves mired in the worst running game in Bengals history and let running backs coach Kyle Caskey explain how it is different as they prepared to take the field Saturday in shoulder pads for a kind of coming out for the new run scheme.

"The tracks are defined 100 percent. The reads are defined 100 percent," Caskey said. "It's not based on flow of defenses or defensive structure. They have a rule that goes across the board so it's the same way in any version of any run we have."

You know the old gag, "Don't think, you're hurting the club."? That's where the Bengals running game is right now. Yes, there are times they'll read fronts and react to blocks, but the line of thinking is the best line is don't think, just run. Bernard likes the sounds of it, but better yet he likes the atmosphere on his side of the ball.

"I feel like there's a little bit more urgency with everybody. Not just the running game, but really just all throughout the entire offense. There's a lot more urgency with everybody," Bernard said. "The guys are playing faster, guys are starting to respond to things a little bit quicker. The pace has definitely picked up.

"As a running back, that's kind of what you want to do. You just want to take everything out of it. Just go out there and play football. You don't want to be thinking about which cut you should make. It's a matter of cleaning things up. Understanding what the offensive line is doing so we can react faster."

One spot the Bengals are far ahead in this camp as opposed to last camp is Mixon is taking reps with the first offensive line group instead of wallowing behind the free-agent Hill now in New England. Another spot where they're miles ahead in the run game: Bernard looked good a year ago at this time, but he looks twice as fast now since it is 20 months post-surgery instead of eight. But he gives some props to the new scheme as well as the new knee.

"I feel good. But obviously we have a new offense and things are a little bit different," Bernard said. "So there may be a reason it looks this way or that way. It's fun. I'm enjoying it. My body feels good. I think everyone across the board has picked up the pace. The offensive line is moving a lot quicker. Running backs are moving a lot quicker. The receivers are moving and with Andy (Dalton) getting the ball out quick, things have been clicking. Put the pads on today and go from there."

From here, with 2,900 rushing yards, Bernard is only going up, past two great hits from the '70s in Boobie Clark (2,978) and Essex Johnson (3,070). Then there is Harold Green with 3,727 for seventh all-Bengaldom. Brooks is the only one of those top seven rushers ahead of Bernard's 230 catches, besting the 192 catches of Griffin and Corey Dillon.

"I was only seven months out of surgery last year," Bernard said. "Of course I feel better. I'm not getting sore yet."

Bengaldom is hoping he also just gave the diagnosis for the running game.

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