Bernard's Year 2 goal? Break bigger runs

CINCINNATI -- Beach balls, bright-colored summertime shirts, sunglasses, boat shoes and Giovani Bernard.

For more than four hours Friday afternoon, the Cincinnati Bengals' second-year running back and the aforementioned props were in the top floor of an old west side Cincinnati building as he went through a photo shoot for the company he's endorsing, energy drink Vita Coco.

At the tail end of a year full of firsts, it was his first ad campaign for the fairly young company. Being part of a personal milestone easily could have made the young Bernard reflective.

But much of what the 22-year-old discussed with ESPN.com in between set changes and shutter flashes had to do with the future. Admittedly proud of his first season in the league, he was instead focused on looking ahead.

Call it a running back's intuition.

Like a back constantly looking for the next level of defenders and the next hole to run through, Bernard peered ahead to what he felt was in store for himself and the Bengals' offense when the season finally rolls around. His biggest goal for Year 2? To break bigger runs.

"If you're a running back, you always want to be able to have explosive runs," Bernard said. "Maybe not so much just the 10-yard runs or 15-yard runs or the 20.

"I want to be able to break the 50s, 60s and 70s. And who knows? Maybe the 80s and 90s. Things like that take hard work and dedication. That's really where your skills come into play is on those explosive runs."

No doubt he possesses the quickness and agility to make such runs happen, but they also will take sound blocking from offensive linemen, the right play calls from offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and the right moment. He believes if he can do a better job of picking his moments this season, he will have the long runs that eluded him last season.

No longer a first-year player, he has no doubts that he will be able to create more opportunities for explosive plays this fall.

"Your rookie year you don't want to take too many chances, so you get what you can, you get the yardage you can and you live on the next play," Bernard said. "This year, I'll take a few more chances. A lot of people talk about the Miami run [last season]. That was a chance that I took. But that was a run where, I don't do that often."

Bernard's longest run of 2013 was arguably his most memorable in a year full of highlight-reel worthy jukes, jumps and sprints. At Miami on Halloween night, he scored on a game-tying 35-yard touchdown run that had it all. He broke a tackle practically as soon as he was handed the ball, spun suddenly several yards behind the line of scrimmage, stepped over another tackle attempt, turned a corner on the opposite side of the field and weaved through defenders -- with quarterback Andy Dalton among those blocking for him -- before flipping into the end zone.

A Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native, Bernard has heard often about the run from friends and strangers alike whenever he is back in South Florida. Although the Bengals ultimately lost the game, the play offered a glimpse into what he believes he can do when he takes a chance or two.

The play was so awe-inspiring that in late January, we ranked it fifth on a breakdown of the top 10 plays from the season.

Including that play, Bernard had runs of 20 or more yards only three times last season. As a receiver, he gained 20 or more yards on nine different receptions. His longest catch was a 41-yarder against Minnesota in Week 16. Much like they did in 2013, the Bengals will turn to Bernard often in the passing game in 2014. Along with catching screens out of the backfield and picking up yards after the catch, he will be put in the slot and asked to catch passes deeper downfield. That is just one way Jackson plans on using Bernard's speed in space to exploit opposing defenses.

Back to breaking bigger runs. Bernard said he had a number of tricks up his sleeve that can help him get more long runs. Among them?

"Maybe on a deep run I can cut back a little and do things like that," Bernard said. "But that's all I'll tell you. I won't put too many of my secrets out there."

Secrets or not, the NFL that knew little about Bernard this time last year certainly knows who he is now. Even the energy-drink world is starting to know his face. He thinks that in order to extend his brand further, he would be best served to collect all the explosive runs he can.