Gio's workload mirrors JB's run

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Like Sam Wyche did with James Brooks, Marvin Lewis is being judicious with Giovani Bernard's carries.

There used to be a time when a Bengals running back - any Bengals running back - would snatch the first post-game stat sheet they saw and check to see if they had their 20 carries.

Those days were officially packed away this week when Giovanni Bernard, their most versatile running back in a generation, signed a three-year extension to be a cog in the machine rather than the machine.

"I think a lot guys think 'I've got to be the guy. If I can't be the guy, I can't stay here,'" says Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis. "But Gio understands, 'I need to share being the guy and we'll be better and I'll be better if I can share the load with another player.' He's rare in a lot ways, but the character of the man is the most important."

At 5-9, 205 pounds, Bernard is one of the NFL's most elusive and exciting players catching the ball out of the backfield.  His 5.9 yards per touch last season were the most by a running back who combined for at least 1,200 rushing and receiving yards and yet his 203 touches were a career-low and not among the NFL's top ten.

But the Bengals aren't looking to pound that small frame. That's why they've teamed him with 230-pound Jeremy Hill and Bernard is just fine with it.

 "As far as the workload, the biggest thing has been they're taking care of me as far as not running me into the ground. That's been good," Bernard says. "Everybody knows a running back's life expectancy in the league is not that long. And doing what we're doing in Cincinnati has really helped me out. Keeping me fresh is helping out Jeremy as well."

Since Hill arrived in the second round in 2014, he has carried it 123 more times than Bernard and touched the ball 73 more times. But Bernard knows he's got more tread left than most 24-year-old NFL running backs.

"I think the biggest thing for me is keeping my body fresh.  I know I'm going to get touches throughout the year," he says. "Whether that's running the ball or catching the ball. I've been able to rack up those touches. It doesn't have to be all runs. It doesn't have to be all passes. It's just a combination of the two and that's kind of what's been driving my career and hopefully it will continue to."

Cincinnati Bengals sign RB Giovanni Bernard to a 3 year extension through 2019.

Lewis is taking the page out of the same book that Bengals head coach Sam Wyche used 25 years ago with four-time Pro Bowl running back James Brooks, a 5-10, 180-pounder mismatch nightmare in the mold of Bernard. Brooks' eight seasons in Cincinnati mirrored Wyche's run and Super Bowl Sam protected the body of his mighty mite.

Despite racking up two 1,000-yard rushing seasons and one 931-yard year, Brooks averaged just 168 rushes per year while Bernard is at 164.

And even though Brooks averaged 5.8 yards per touch as a Bengal, he never appeared in the NFL's top ten for touches and Bernard hasn't either. Now the franchise's second-leading all-time rusher with more than 6,000 yards and No. 12 on the receiving list with nearly 300 catches, Brooks averaged just 205 touches per season as a Bengal with the heights coming in his Pro Bowl seasons he averaged 237.

Bernard is tracking on the same ground. He's averaging 213 touches per year, but in matching the explosion of the passing game he's been used much more as a receiver than Brooks was, averaging 49 catches per year while Brooks clocked in at 37.

Bernard's extension ends after seven seasons and with a 5.4-yard career touch, he's on pace to finish with 343 catches, shattering Brooks' club record for running backs of 297. His 4,911 rushing yards would put him fifth on the club's all-time list.

But Bernard is already on record as saying he doesn't care about the numbers. He likes his role here, he embraces it, and he thinks new offensive coordinator Ken Zampese does, too.

"They've done a good job keeping me fresh and Zamp has seen that," Bernard says. "I'm going to keep playing until the wheels fall off or they tell me to go home. Knock on wood, I haven't been hurt and I'll keep preparing my body."

 
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