After slicing, slashing and jump-cutting his way across the field less than eight months removed from ACL surgery, Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard joked that he has two bionic knees.
Although given his performance in the first practice of training camp Friday, maybe he wasn’t actually joking.
“Today was fun to be out there with the guys, that whole camaraderie” said Bernard, who tore his left ACL on Nov. 20 against Buffalo and hasn’t been on the field with his teammates since, spending every OTA and minicamp practice on the side field rehabbing.
“(Strength coach Chip Morton) let me break down the group in the beginning of practice, which meant a lot to me,” Bernard added. “It probably didn’t seem like that much of a thing, but for me to be able to come back and do that meant the world to me.”
Bernard carried the ball on the second snap of the first 11-on-11 drill, and after a few more touches he had the defensive players hooting and hollering while cries of “He’s back!”
No one doubted Bernard would be back, but for him to return to full form so fast has been remarkable.
“When people say ‘Oh, you came back so quick,’ I just always tell them I’m Haitian and we’re just born different, we just have different DNA than everybody else,” Bernard said with a smirk. “We just have a different blood type. I don’t know. It’s something I joke around with. We just come back from injuries like it’s nothing. Like a Wolverine kind of thing, I don’t know.”
It’s actually the second time Bernard has sped through an ACL rehab. He tore his right ACL in college at North Carolina. That was in August, and he was back on the field the following April for spring ball eight months later.
“This is my second go-round,” he said. “I understood the process. I understood you just kind of stay the course and trust the training staff. It’s one of those things when you set out a goal in front of yourself and you are able to accomplish it, it means the world to yourself.
“I’ve got two bionic knees now,” he added. “Now they’re even.”
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One person who wasn’t surprised by Bernard’s performance Friday was running backs coach Kyle Caskey.
“He’s really been way ahead of his rehab schedule,” Caskey said. “The stuff that we’ve seen him do since we’ve been back since April has been far beyond what I personally expected, and what a lot of us expected. If anybody can do it, it’s going to be him.”
Bernard repeatedly praised Bengals director of rehab Nick Cosgray for getting him back on the field so quickly.
“There’s so many words to describe him,” Bernard said. “I know him and his family went through a tough time during this process. I know his mother in law passed away. It was just one of those things where his attitude didn’t change. His drive for me to get back on the field didn’t change.
“For somebody to do that during a time like that with him and his family, it’s tough,” Bernard added. “And he was there every single day pushing me. Obviously you’re not going to feel great every single day trying to do this rehab stuff. To have that guy next to you, to be able to help, it meant the world to me.”
Bernard also had Tyler Eifert by his side through much of the process as the Bengals Pro Bowl tight end was rehabbing after back surgery.
Eifert also returned to the field Friday, catching several balls, including an impressive one-handed stab on a short pass from Andy Dalton. Eifert, who also sat out of all offseason workouts, said he’s been 100 percent for the last month and a half to two months.
“I’m jumping in. I’m ready to go,” he said Friday morning before practice. “I’m excited to go. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it. I feel like myself so I’m excited to get back out there.”
First-round pick John Ross also made his practice debut after undergoing labrum surgery following the Combine. He participated in position drills and worked on punt returns, but Ross did not take part in any 11-on-11, 7-on-7 or even 1-on-1 drills.
The Bengals will be back on the practice field Saturday at 3 p.m.
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