Giovani Bernard is about to get a much bigger workload with Joe Mixon out for the next few weeks, but Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Bill Lazor said he expects the offense to keep moving along like it has the first two games.
Mixon underwent arthroscopic surgeryto remove a small particle from his right knee Saturday and is expected to miss two to four weeks. He injured the knee during Thursday’s game against Baltimore – calling it “some weird tweak” — and left twice but finished out the game.
The Bengals’ 2017 second-round draft pick still managed 84 yards on 21 carries and has been key in Lazor’s efforts to bring more focus to the running game this season. Bernard, a 5-foot-9, 205-pound veteran, has carried the ball just seven times over the first two games and added five receptions.
“In a perfect world you’re always getting a lot out of both of them,” Lazor said. “The way the first game worked Gio was in for three bad runs, so his drive — sometimes you say it’s his drive — it didn’t last long. Sometimes it’s the luck of the draw and we can adjust to that as the game goes, but the other part of it is a guy gets a hot hand and you let him go. We’ve seen Gio do that last year against Detroit when he had (30) touches. He got going and you say keep feeding him. I think it goes back and forth. To me the only negative to one guy being in there and getting the ball is the other guy isn’t and I like them both.”
Bernard, 26, was the Bengals’ second-round pick in 2013 and has been solid in different roles, whether as a blocker, receiver or runner. His best season was 2015 when he rushed for 730 yards and added another 472 yards receiving but the following year his time was cut short by an ACL tear that limited him to 10 games.
In his return last season, he had 458 yards rushing and 389 yards receiving. Cincinnati was expecting a big leap this year being a full season removed from surgery.
“I don’t look at Gio any different (than Mixon),” Lazor said. “I don’t want to compare him to anybody, but to me, the guy is a warrior. Coming off knee surgery from two years ago and then what he did last year, I just think he’s a warrior. I think he’s really unique physically, and to be able to do that at his stature, to play the way he plays. He finishes runs, he doesn’t go out of bounds. He doesn’t go down easy. The guy is a warrior. I have great respect for him. I really do. Do we have to be smart with him? Absolutely, but no different than with any other running back.”
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Mixon’s injury doesn’t appear nearly as severe as what Bernard went through. Mixon said after Thursday’s game he wasn’t worried about it because he was able to finish the game but Friday learned he had more than a tweak. Mixon thanked his fans on social media for their thoughts and prayers Saturday and said on Twitter “the procedure went great.”
Cincinnati (2-0) is headed to Carolina (1-1) on Sunday and faces a Panthers’ run defense that ranks 24th while allowing 132.0 rushing yards per game. Lazor said he has enough confidence in Bernard as the go-to back.
“I think Gio was underrated as a runner,” Lazor said. “For whatever reason people talk about all of the things he can do, because can do so many things, but if you back and watch his inside runs from last year, now some of it was when we spread people out, but he was a pretty effective inside runner. He can do a lot of different things and hopefully we can find a couple of things for him this week. I think we’re facing a really, really good defensive front seven. It’s a challenge.”
Lazor said that while Bernard is capable of shouldering the load himself, it likely will take more than just him to get by while Mixon is out.
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Tra Carson, an undrafted signee in 2016, is the next running back on the depth chart and will be seeing his first carries. He spent all of 2017 on Reserve/Injured after suffering a groin injury in the preseason but looked solid throughout training camp this year and earned a place on the roster ahead of Brian Hill and has been active the past two weeks ahead of rookie fourth-round draft pick Mark Walton.
A 1,000-yard rusher as a senior at Texas A&M, Carson was on the practice squad for the first 15 games as a rookie before being called up to the active roster for the season finale, which he did not play.
“I think it’s hard for one back to go through any game, but I think between Gio and Tra we will find a way I hope,” Lazor said.