The 27-year-old Bernard played just 12 snaps this preseason as the Bengals held back their running game, but he is expected to be an important part of Taylor’s offense, giving Cincinnati a strong 1-2 punch out of the backfield with Joe Mixon leading the way.
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Bernard has been one of the league’s better complementary backs since the Bengals drafted him in the second round out of North Carolina in 2013. He eclipsed 1,000 yards from scrimmage his first three seasons and has caught at least 35 passes the past three, all while averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
Last year, the seventh-year veteran saw a dropoff in production with just 56 rushes for 211 yards and three touchdowns to go along with 35 catches for 218 yards; however, he was limited to 12 games because of injury and it seems Taylor wants to utilize him more.
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Going into training camp, offensive coordinator Brian Callahan described how the team plans to use Mixon and Bernard based on “feel” and who has “the hot hand.” Bernard should get plenty of opportunity.
“The balance between the two of them and whoever the third back emerges to be you want those guys to all share the load over the course of the season so you don’t ever wear anybody out,” Callahan said. “If they are productive in their role we can at least keep them fresh enough throughout the course of 16 games. It’s a hard position to play. It’s tough on your body. Joe is obviously still the bell cow and Gio is the substitute. Joe carried the ball, but Gio has another role, too, as a pass catcher and a receiver.”
In six seasons, Bernard has 744 career rushes for 3111 yards (4.2 average) and 19 TDs, and ranks second in team history in both receptions (265) and receiving yards (2278) by a running back, trailing only James Brooks (297 and 3012).