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Ravens bracing for dynamic Bengals running back Giovani Bernard

The Ravens' defense saw firsthand how dangerous and elusive Cincinnati Bengals running back Giovani Bernard can be in the open field last season.

As a rookie last season, Bernard accelerated into the end zone on an 18-yard screen pass during the Ravens' 20-17 overtime win in November when he rushed for 58 yards on 14 carries and caught eight passes for 37 yards.

In the season finale win by the Bengals, Bernard caught five passes for 51 yards. The Ravens bottled him up on the ground as he gained just 22 yards on 13 carries. In two games against the Ravens last season, the multidimensional former North Carolina star caught 13 passes for 88 yards with one touchdown and rushed for 80 yards on 27 carries.

The Ravens' defense is on guard to try to contain Bernard.

"Gio Bernard does a heck of a job," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They’re going to attack you on the edges with Gio in the stretch running game and toss cracks and those kinds of things that they do. Screens are a big part of his game. He’s a good receiver out of the backfield.

"But you can’t stop there with him, because he does a nice job in pass protection, and he will run between the tackles. Good pursuit, great team defense and good tackling – and that’s with any back, but especially with a guy as elusive as Gio.”

Drafted in the second round last year, Bernard generated 1,209 yards from scrimmage. He caught 56 passes and rushed for 695 yards. The 5-foot-9, 208-power has a lot of moves and plenty of speed working in his favor.

"He's a special player," Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said during a conference call with Baltimore reporters. "He can do a lot with the ball in his hands. For him, it's getting him in space and letting him do his thing. He's really talented."

The Bengals have rookie power back Jeremy Hill working in tandem with Bernard after cutting veteran Benjarvus Green-Ellis. The former LSU standout rushed for 190 yards on 41 carries in the preseason, averaging 4.6 yards per carry.

Bernard is the big-play threat, though.

"Bernard is a very good downhill runner," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said. "You have to get in great position and really do a great job of tackling. He's a strong, strong runner. He's a good screen runner. He does a lot of good things."

awilson@baltsun.com

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