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The Law Firm welcomes new partners


BenJarvus Green-Ellis

Once upon a time in a talented Paul Brown Stadium locker room not that far away, adding another playmaker or two would have ignited a media mushroom cloud of dissent among the other playmaker or two.

But not in the Bengals locker room of 2013. Not with leaders like BenJarvus Green-Ellis running the show. Not with BJGE getting ready to break in that new, earnest junior partner of The Law Firm, North Carolina running back Giovani Bernard, the 37th pick in last weekend's draft.

"See those lockers over there?" Green-Ellis asked after his Monday workout, pointing across the Bengals locker room to the lockers of the offensive linemen.

"All those guys are part of The Firm. All those guys up front," BJGE said. "Zeitler and Roland and Robinson, Whitworth and Smith. All those guys. That's the way I look at things. For a running back, it all starts up front. A lot of things don't get done unless the guys up front are moving. That's the way it is with everything. Offense. Defense. The game is won in the trenches."

Green-Ellis, Cincinnati's top running back and one of two Super Bowl veterans, not only tweeted his endorsement of Bernard before the draft, he took Bernard and two other draft picks, SMU defensive end Margus Hunt and Georgia safety Shawn Williams, to Ruth's Chris on Saturday night at The Banks. After he worked out Monday, Green-Ellis pondered the Bernard addition.

"I do think if you are going to have a running back running the ball, part of the position that gets hit, you do have to have guys in place to give him a break," he said. "Give him a break or keep somebody behind him who's ready to go and do everything that guy can do and maybe add something different."

If BJGE is the steady, flawless between-the-tackles brute, then Bernard is supposed to be the flashy change-of-pace that catches defenses flat-footed. One of the questions about the 5-9, 205-pound Bernard is if he can stand up to a BJGE-like pounding if called upon.

Bernard's average of 22 touches per game during his two seasons at North Carolina suggest that he can and Green-Ellis offered another endorsement Monday. Bernard figures to replace Brian Leonard as the third-down back, as well as spell Green-Ellis to lighten his load.

"That's the beauty of it, he gets to come in and prove to everyone who says he can't do things, prove them wrong," BJGE said. "And guys who think he could do, or maybe we're overlooking things he can do and no one knows. That's going to be the thing about talent with guys. It's not going to be a premeditated thing that says, 'Oh, he's just going to do this, he's going to do that.' He's going to get a chance to come in and do everything out there on the field to do what he can do. And given the opportunities to do what he can do to the best of his abilities."

If it sounds like BJGE has quietly slipped into a leadership role as he begins his second season with the Bengals and sixth in the NFL, it's because he has. But he's doing it his way and that means he's doing it with his no-frills, blue-collar Crescent City menu marinated during his New Orleans childhood.

"A leader is not a guy who is a leader on camera. A leader is a guy who everyone in the locker room knows they can depend on. Everyone knows when he comes into work he's going to give a 110-percent effort," Green-Ellis said. "You don't have to be a leader on camera. It's not made for that. A leader is someone people believe in, who is accountable.

"You can go to them about anything. They know everybody's job on the team. Whether it's quarterback, tight end, running back, linebacker. You help everybody along the way. You're not just running backs. You worry about your job, but you're also knowledgeable about other situations where you can give advice and do things like that."

Green-Ellis says he called right tackle Andre Smith twice a week to check on him during his negotiations that ended in a three-year deal Friday night.

"When you have a guy like Andre Smith on the right side and a guy like Andrew Whitworth on the left side, that can be problems for people," BJGE said. "Believe it or not, they're both big, huge guys and they can move people out of the way whether it is pass or run."

Believe it or not, BJGE, a devout college fan, took a look at a lot of the backs coming out and he likes many of them.

"There's lot of young guys that came out. I like Stepfan Taylor from Stanford … there's a lot of running backs I like out there, that I've seen from catching their games … at the hotel," he said. "Gio is a guy that comes in from what he did at college as a guy who can do a lot of different facets of the game, whether it be catching the ball out of the backfield, returning punts and things like that."

BJGE is more than an interested bystander when it comes to the first-round selection of Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert. Now that Eifert is teaming with two-time Pro Bowl tight end Jermaine Gresham, Green-Ellis is flashing back to his days with the Patriots in 2010 and 2011 with tight end Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The tandem paced the Pats to the Super Bowl in '11 with the NFL's No. 2 offense that featured Gronkowski and Hernandez combining for 24 TDs and 169 catches.

BJGE says two big pass-catching tight ends put a lot of pressure on a defense to declare if it wants to go with a pass-set defense or a regular defense. He says the Bengals need something to balance their attack. While The Firm struggled early last year, quarterback Andy Dalton found success with two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green. Then when BJGE came within 11 yards of becoming the first Bengal to rush for 100 yards in five straight games during 25 days in November and December, Green caught just two TDs and had three games with no catches longer than 17 yards.   

"You have to account for everybody. The way our season started, A.J. was hot. Then midway through the season, I got hot," BJGE said. "We have to put all those things together at one point in time. I've got to be hot, A.J. has to be hot, Jermaine has to be hot. Who is ever out there with us at the time. We all have to be hot at the same time. We can't have one facet of our offense rolling and the other facet kind of sluggish and the other half picking it up. We've got to have all those things working in continuity together.

"That's what was the biggest part about us. We started off, our passing was very good, our run was shaky. Then our run is good and our pass is shaky. That can't happen. We all have to have them going together at the same time."

Two first-round tight ends figure to have a big impact on the offense. According to last year's NFL stats, the Bengals ran a formation of two tights and two receivers on first-and-10 a total of 98 times. Keeping in mind that Gronkowski missed the last five games, the Pats did it 222 times and were 10th in the league out of that set on that down-and-distance in gaining 6.2 yards with 115 runs and 107 passes. The Bengals were 24th in the league with a 4.9 average on 51 runs and 47 passes.

As BJGE documented Monday, the presence of two tight ends puts the defense in a tough situation because of the ability to diversify. Bernard's versatility does the same thing.

"Hopefully, you take pressure off everybody if everybody can come in and do the things everyone is hoping they can do and they can believe they can do it," Green-Ellis said. "I think that will take a lot of pressure off. At the same point in time, who is ever out there we all have to work together. Offensive line, backs, tight ends, wide receivers. We all have to go out and play better for each other. We have to do a better job clicking on the same cylinders at one time. On a drive, we have runs, we have passes and if they're all working that's the thing that's going to make us more dangerous and that's going to relieve the most pressure more than anything."

It all sounds so nice on paper. The new offensive additions, the pundits are saying, have put the Bengals over the hump in the AFC North.

But, frankly, The Law Firm would like to shred the paper.

"We have a lot of questions about being a playoff team. Nobody right now is a playoff team. Everyone is starting 0-0, we are all fresh," Green-Ellis said. "For us to continue to say that would be kind of kicking ourselves in the foot. Right now we are a team that hasn't won a game yet. We are a team that never went out and has taken one snap of practice yet. We are trying to put it together. That is the beauty of football. No two years are going to be the same, no two things are going to be the same, I promise."

The Law Firm, it seems, is looking ahead to the next partners meeting.

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