One of the more intriguing storylines that we're tracking in Cincinnati Bengals training camp revolves around running back Giovani Bernard and the increased touches he's expecting this season.
He first heard during the spring that he was going to take on a greater share of the offensive load. He should be on the field more regularly and be put in better situations to see his number of touches increase from the 226 he had last year to somewhere closer to the neighborhood of 300.
By the extension of his position, quarterback Andy Dalton will play the largest role in the Bengals' offense this season. Receiver A.J. Green will be a big contributor, too. But no other skill player will be used like Bernard will.
"I don't know if it's the workload that's going to get more, it's more the type of plays that we're going to run with him in the game," running backs coach Kyle Caskey said after Sunday's practice. "We're going to expand his portfolio of plays and find different ways to get the ball in his hands in space. You get the ball in Gio's hands in space, he's dangerous."
That's not much of a secret. Take a look at film from Bernard's first home regular-season game last year against Pittsburgh on "Monday Night Football." He ripped off a 27-yard touchdown reception that was powered by his speed, agility and the positioning of his blockers deep downfield. It was his only catch in that game, but the screen pass and big gain set the tone for how well he can play if put in the right spaces.
Caskey, new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and the rest of the offensive coaches hope to put Bernard in those situations as often as possible this year. That could mean lining him out wide as a receiver, placing him into the slot or positioning him elsewhere on the field where he can catch passes. The same could be said for rookie Jeremy Hill, who has also been lauded for his ability to catch passes even if he isn't quite as explosive as Bernard.
"You don't necessarily have to hand it off and say, 'Hey, Gio got 260 touches last year out of the backfield.' Maybe he gets 260 to 300 touches but he gets them some other way," Caskey said. "Maybe he gets 200 out of the backfield but he catches 100 passes or however it is. We'll find a way to get the ball to him."
That said, does it really matter exactly how many rushes and receptions he has?
"No," Caskey said. "Of course we're going to limit certain parts of his game. It's a long season, sixteen games. And you don't want him to get hurt. Besides, we've got a huge talent pool in our running back room with the other guys we've got there. So it's not like he has to go in there and take all the reps."
But the Bengals still want him to take as many as he can. That's something Bernard is looking forward to.
"Whenever I have the ball, I feel explosive," he said. "I'm not going to say I don't get tired, but there's always that thing where when you have the ball, you've got to go full speed. The more opportunities, the more things you can do with the ball."
Here are a few other quick items to be aware of as the Bengals kick off Week 2 of camp:
Green-Ellis gets support. Veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis got a bit of a boost from Caskey, who said he was "still one of our guys." While some in the media, myself included, have said the writing seems to be on the wall for Green-Ellis and his stay in Cincinnati, the coach contends that nothing has changed as far as the staff is concerned. It has also been interesting to hear the type of support Green-Ellis has received from his teammates in practice this camp. Typically when he's got the ball in his hands, offensive and defensive players are shouting more encouraging words to him than you hear for anyone else.
Campbell part of project. Found it interesting over the weekend that The Cleveland Plain Dealer and the Northeast Ohio Media Group were in the middle of a summertime project that saw them catch up with all the men who played quarterback for the Browns since 1999. Yes, that's a long list. Be happy that you've had relative consistency at that position over the years, Bengals fans. Ranking 20th on the Plain Dealer's list was current Bengals backup Jason Campbell, who spent part of last season in Northeast Ohio. You can read about Campbell's post-football plans there, too.