Rookie running back Giovani Bernard wore shoulder pads for the first time as an NFL player in Saturday's practice and his potential impact on the Bengals offense smacked home. He's scrappy, fun, and fast.
Kind of like his verbal confrontation with WILL linebacker Vontaze Burfict.
The 5-9, 208-pound Bernard did what he does and slithered barely above the ground through traffic on a handoff when suddenly he ended up on the ground after banging into safety George Iloka and fell over like he was pole-axed.
Bernard bounced up and when Burfict came over to chortle about it, he got in Burfict's face until left tackle Andrew Whitworth draped his beefy 6-foot-7 arm around Bernard and led him back to the huddle like Dad on Parents' Day.
Bernard basically yapped back, "Keep coming. It's an all-day service, 24-7."
"I don't know what he was saying. I was talking as loud as he was," Bernard admitted after practice. "Me and (Burfict) always go at it. He's a great guy. I love his intensity. I wish I could match his own intensity. Every day, that's what I'm trying to do; match his intensity. He's a linebacker, he has so much fire. That's how I want to play."
Bernard left those calling cards all over the Paul Brown Stadium practice field Saturday during the team drills. Fiery. Versatile. Quick. The first thing any Bengals fan is going to think is, "Now we've got our Ray Rice," but the coaches want Gio to be Gio.
What is pretty clear is the Bengals haven't had a compact, do-it-all back that can scat like this in the Marvin Lewis era.
"He's got great feet," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "He's going to be tough to see in the hole. He'll bounce around; make a lot of people miss. If he gets in the open field, he's dangerous."
On Saturday, Bernard checked off those musts of a third-down back.
He allowed quarterback Andy Dalton to get off an early completion when he got in the way of 300-pound right end Wallace Gilberry.
Later, when Dalton set up a screen pass to Bernard, defensive tackle Geno Atkins tipped it into the air and Bernard was able to adjust, track it down, catch it, and head upfield.
And as much as fellow rookie tight end Tyler Eifert has emerged as a Dalton security blanket in the first three training camp practices, Bernard has also become a frequent option out of the backfield and helped the completion percentage immensely.
"He catches the ball very fluidly," Gruden said. "Obviously run after catch, you can see what he can do out in space. We need him to stay up a little bit when he gets bumped by the safety instead of doing a whirlybird going down. He'll understand tempo once we get pads on. He'll get lower."
The rest of the pads officially join the shoulder pads Sunday, but Bernard shrugged.
"This is full pads to me," he said. "Every day I just want to run hard."
That's not the reason Bernard is going to be playing quite a bit this season as the team's regular third-down back. Oh, the Bengals like the way he runs. But the only way a back is going to play is if he knows the pass protections and Bernard not only appears to know them, he has no problem executing them.
"He's picked up the system pretty well," Gruden said. "He's picked up the protections very well. And he's a competitive kid."
Bernard calls it something else.
"That's little man syndrome coming out of me," Bernard said as he recounted blocking Gilberry. "If I see a guy that's on the other side of the ball that's tackling our quarterback, I can't let that happen. So I put my head in there and hope for the best."
He didn't look all that little with shoulder pads.