CINCINNATI (AP) — Giovani Bernard is the last veteran running back standing for the Cincinnati Bengals, and even he was limited in practice on Wednesday.
The Bengals (2-0) head to Carolina (1-1) with Bernard as their only experienced back who knows their system. No. 3 back Tra Carson was waived Wednesday after suffering a hamstring injury in practice.
The Bengals signed free agent running back Thomas Rawls, who was released by the Jets at the end of training camp.
The running game has shown significant improvement over last year, helping the Bengals get off to their fast start. The challenge is to keep it going with only one proven option to carry the ball.
“I feel like people are freaking out but my goodness, it’s football,” Bernard said Wednesday before his limited practice. “Guys are going to go down and the next man has to step up and be prepared.”
Joe Mixon hurt his right knee during a 34-23 win over Baltimore on Thursday night. He had a surgical procedure over the weekend to remove a piece of torn cartilage. He walked without a limp or a brace Wednesday, saying the knee felt good. He’ll be sidelined for a few games as the knee recovers.
“I’m not sure of the timetable and however the recovery process is going to be or whatever they are going to let me do,” Mixon said.
Mixon’s injury opened the way for Carson to move into a bigger role behind Bernard, but he got hurt during practice on Monday.
The Bengals decided they needed another healthy runner and signed Rawls, who played for Seattle from 2015-17, starting 17 games.
Rawls did his best in his rookie season, carrying 147 times for 830 yards and a 5.6-yard average. His production dropped each of the next two seasons, and he was released after carrying 58 times for 157 yards in 2017.
The Bengals also have rookie Mark Walton, a fourth-round pick in 2018. Walton had only 21 yards on 22 carries in the preseason.
“I was hesitating, second-guessing myself,” Walton said. “I had a lot of cutbacks.”
Provided he’s healthy, Bernard will get the ball a lot at Carolina, moving into a role that he’s filled on occasion during his five-year career. He’s been used more as a complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Jeremy Hill and Mixon over the years, pressed into a featured role when the starter was injured.
“He may be 5-foot-8, 200 (pounds), but he’s about 6-foot-4, 250 in heart,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey said. “So he’s one of those guys who’s going to be more productive and explosive than you think he’s going to be with his size.”
Bernard has carried the ball 20 or more times in three games during his career, including a 23-carry, 116-yard performance during a 26-17 win over Detroit on Dec. 24.
Bernard’s biggest contribution to the offense has been as a receiver. He’s caught at least five passes in a game 23 times, with nine as his career high. He has two 100-yard receiving games.
“He does the same things I do,” Mixon said. “I have complete faith in Gio and however they are going to use him. I’m not worried about any downfall in the running game and passing game. He’s done it for years.”
PRICE IN THE BOOT
Rookie center Billy Price was walking with a boot on his injured right foot Wednesday. He sprained the foot when it was stepped on during the win over the Ravens. Doctors concluded on Wednesday that the injury won’t need surgery.
He’ll wear the boot continuously for two weeks and get treatment.
“We’ll reevaluate in two weeks and see where we’re at,” Price said.
Defensive end Michael Johnson hurt his left knee early in the game against the Ravens and was limited in practice on Wednesday. Linebacker Preston Brown missed the Ravens game with a sprained right ankle and also had a limited workout.