Updated: 8-18-13, 7:20 a.m.
It seems like Giovani Bernard and Andy Dalton are not only already on the same page, but they're finishing each other's sentences.
Such was the case Saturday night when Dalton, the tight-lipped Bengals quarterback, called the second-and-three play from the Titans 47 late in the first quarter. Bernard, the loquacious and low-to-the-ground Bengals rookie running back, gave Dalton a tap as they broke the huddle.
"We knew the ball was kind of coming to me with nobody saying it," Bernard said. "I saw the (linebacker) pressed up. Once they called the play in the huddle, I knew it. I was kind of tapping him. You know in a situation like that the linebackers are usually late getting to a guy in the flat. It kind of worked out the way we planned it. I knew I could outrun him."
That's why the Bengals made Bernard the first running back drafted back in April. His matchups out of the backfield are so tantalizing. Dalton quickly took the shotgun snap and lofted it into the flat and Bernard took off on a 22-yard play that set up his own one-yard touchdown run.
That's why the Bengals got him. He can win in space and the 5-10, 205-pounder can also pound it up inside for a TD and he now has one in each of the first two games.
That draft day concern about Bernard just being big enough to be a specialty back is fading fast. Along with his 22-yard catch, he ran for more than five yards per on his seven carries.
Head coach Marvin Lewis indicated that the No. 1 running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, is merely resting his body for the long haul, and that's just fine with Bernard.
"I want to be an every-down back. I don't want to be a guy that's just shifty or a guy that can just run outside or catch balls out of the backfield," Bernard said. "I want to be able to be a guy who can do it all. That's the thing I bring to the table as a person that's able to do it all. If I can add that to my game, it's going to be awesome. Benny's going to come back real strong, and we're just excited for this entire thing going on and seeing how it plays out."
Bernard is his own worst critic. He wasn't very happy last week in Atlanta and he wasn't overly thrilled with what he did Saturday.
"For me, my biggest thing is yards per carry and it still wasn't as high as I wanted it to be," Bernard said. "But it just leaves room for getting better. That's the thing about me; I'm always trying to get better at everything. I'm always going to critique myself real hard, no matter if I have 300 yards in a game. I'm still going to try to find that one play or two plays where I messed up. That's just how I am. That's what's gotten me here, being a tough critic on myself."
But offensive coordinator Jay Gruden is in his corner.
"He's not afraid. He may not run over people like Adrian Peterson but he'll make some people miss. He's hard to find in there," Gruden said. "Sometimes those smaller backs get in there and they get low and linebackers and safeties can't find them. They pop out the back door."
OTHER ROOKS EMERGE: With George Iloka sitting out with an injured wrist, rookie safety Shawn Williams played enough to rack up a team-high 10 tackles, double more than anyone else.
"I had a feeling I was going to get to play more. I was just out there having fun and playing football and running to the ball," Williams said. "I guess that's a result of just being out there and running to the ball."
Taylor Mays got the start at safety, but he and Williams rotated at the spot opposite Reggie Nelson, and from about the middle of the first quarter until late in the game Williams played every snap but one. Early in the third quarter he broke his helmet and on the next play he had the wind knocked out of him and came off.
"It was just an opportunity for me to come out and give the other guys a break so I could get my helmet fixed and return to the game," he said.
Iloka looks like he'll be able to play at some point relatively soon with what looks to be a brace or light cast on his wrist.
Williams, the third-rounder from Georgia, keeps showing up. Last week in practice he had back-to-back days with interceptions and on Saturday he also added a special teams tackle. The Bengals knew he was going to tackle after a college career he excelled in the box.
"I feel like I improved from the first game. I missed a couple of tackles, but today I think I tackled well," Williams said. "I had 10 tackles, so that's an area I improved on. I just have to keep getting better each and every week at something."
The rookies seemed to take to heart the words of special teams coach Darrin Simmons during a week he told them the biggest jump for them is from the first to the second game.
"I definitely felt a lot more comfortable playing here in front of our home crowd with people rooting us on," Bernard said. "But for me the biggest part is continuing to get better."
The second-leading tacklers were a pair of free-agent linebackers: Jayson DiManche and Bruce Taylor with five each.
And on offense first-rounder Tyler Eifert had a 25-yard catch, fifth-rounder Cobi Hamilton had a 30-yard catch, sixth-rounder Rex Burkhead had a 22-yard run, and free-agent wide receiver Roy Roundtree had an 18-yard catch.
Gruden had a pretty good idea that both Eifert and Hamilton were going to do more after being quiet in the first game.
"We didn't feature (Eifert) too much, a couple of times we tried to get him out there and give him some looks," Gruden said. "He caught a seam ball, which was excellent. No fear up the middle. He caught another ball out in the flat which was good. He had a screen pass in the flat that got called back so we tried to get him a few touches. I'm not worried about Tyler, at all.
"Cobi's a tough guy and he's not afraid of anything. He just needs to slow down and use the strength that he has, his size as a wide receiver and work some defensive backs over like he did on that slant that he caught. But he's a good target."
BOLING TACKLES LEFT: Starting left guard Clint Boling's résumé at Georgia: 19 starts at left tackle, 19 at right guard and 11 at right tackle. So when he moved to left tackle in practice last week it wasn't an earth-shattering move for him. With Andrew Whitworth (knee) and Tanner Hawkinson (ankle) shelved, the Bengals were trying to give Anthony Collins a breather before they went to rookie free agent Jason Weaver in the second half.
"It's obviously a little different; the technique and spacing are a lot different," Boling said. "But at the same time all you're doing is playing football and you just have to go out there and compete and do the best you can."
Boling made the move when John Skelton checked into the game late in the first half after Dalton engineered two touchdown drives. The offensive line rallied after Dalton got hit twice on the first series, getting sacked and stripped on the second hit. But Gruden rolled out three triple tight-end sets in the next drive to focus on the running game.
"That was a big drive for us, just to get something going," Boling said. "After the first series and the first game where we got off to slow starts, but to come out and run the ball like that on back-to-back drives and score two touchdowns, that was huge."