TAMPA — A creaky adage suggests people often must leave some things behind to move forward. Intentionally or not, Giovani Bernard applied that maxim to his move from the Bengals to the Bucs.
The veteran tailback brought his moxie, sleekness and pass-catching chops from Cincinnati, but his eight-track-era mustache — which achieved its own celebrity status in 2020 — literally was left on the cutting-room floor.
“It might be a little too hot down there for that,” said Bernard, who called the bushy accessory his “COVID protector” during his final season in Cincinnati.
“I definitely had to let that thing go. I’m from Fort Lauderdale, so working out and doing that, as soon as I got back down here, I realized that thing wasn’t going to last long.”
Fine by the Bucs, who are far more concerned with Bernard’s hands than his hair — facial or otherwise.
“He’s awesome off the field and in the classroom as a vet,” receiver Scotty Miller said.
“He’s been around and played at a very high level in the league. We’re glad to have him, he’s a great receiving back. He’s very quick, great hands and great routes. I think he’s going to help us out a lot in different situations.”
Especially the passing ones.
While combining for more than 1,300 rushing yards in the 2020 regular season, the Bucs backfield tandem of Ronald Jones II and Leonard Fournette also combined for 12 dropped passes. The drop percentage of Fournette (14.9) and Jones (11.9) ranked first and second, respectively, of all Bucs players who got 11 or more targets.
Enter Bernard, who totaled 359 catches (playoffs included) to go with 3,776 rushing yards in his eight seasons in Cincinnati. In his last three seasons, Bernard’s regular-season drop total (eight) was only one more than Fournette’s total in 2020.
Which isn’t to suggest Bernard, 29, will replace Fournette or Jones, a complementary tandem that represents a thunder-and-lightning rushing package for Tampa Bay. To the contrary, Bernard is a 5-foot-9, 205-pound change of pace, a sure-handed safety valve who can turn a Tom Brady dump pass or toss sweep into a huge gain.
“I think the biggest thing for me is just wherever I can help, I’ll be there, no matter what it is,” said Bernard, a former St. Thomas Aquinas High star who torched Largo for 171 rushing yards in a 35-14 state semifinals win in the 2008 Class 5A playoffs.
“I’ve always been that type of player (that) no matter what the situation is, no matter whether it’s about offensive stuff, special teams stuff, team leadership stuff, it doesn’t matter. Wherever I can help, wherever I can be an asset to this team, I’ll be there.”
On a team that returned all 11 offensive starters from Super Bowl 55, the assets have only increased.
Throw in fourth-round draft pick Jaelon Darden — a 5-foot-8 record-setting receiver from North Texas — and Brady has speed around him to, well, burn. Brady and Darden hooked up for a touchdown during team work in the indoor practice facility Monday.
“They’re really working hard to get things right, and I’m just excited about being with them,” Brady said of Darden and Bernard. “They’re two dynamic guys. Not the tallest guys but quick, agile, athletic. Really fun to see them making a lot of plays out there, making guys miss.”
By all indications, Bernard has been a quick study in camp. While most veterans spurned organized team activities earlier in the summer (at the behest of their union), Bernard attended the sessions to familiarize himself with the Bucs’ culture and playbook.
“Even though I’m an eight-year guy, I wanted to make sure I was here just so I can pick up on that kind of stuff,” he said.
So far in training camp, he seems to have developed a solid clairvoyance with Brady, hooking up with the 44-year-old frequently. On Saturday, the Bucs’ first day in full pads, he broke free for at least two significant runs.
One might say the clean-shaven veteran newcomer has groomed himself to flourish in his new setting.
“He’s helpful,” Jones said. “Bringing that veteran leadership and things like that, he allows the room to be more versatile. So it’s definitely a good combination.”
Contact Joey Knight at email@example.com. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls
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