Ten years separate Joe Mixon, the youngest Cincinnati Bengals player on the team—who still has two months to go before turning 21—and Andy Dalton, a captain, leader and one of the most experienced veterans on the roster.
Dalton, like wide receiver A.J. Green, is taking Mixon under his wings and before the two hit the field together this week, Dalton was texting Mixon, ensuring the rookie is working hard, learning the playbook and that everything has been going well since his arrival in Cincinnati, Mixon told Bengals.com.
“I thought it was cool,” Mixon said of Dalton texting him. “I'd never talked to him before. For him to be sending text messages, it was cool.”
The two are already plotting how Mixon will be used in 2017, which won’t only include running the ball, but catching it, too. “(He said) ‘Just go out there and run hard,’ and at the end of the day he'll throw the ball for me to catch it and I'll go out there and finish,” Mixon said.
Mixon is one of the new weapons at Dalton’s disposal, and first round pick John Ross is another. Ross’ blazing speed is the talk of the town in Cincinnati and Dalton made sure to bring it up in the locker room on Monday, too.
“We’re faster obviously. With John Ross’ speed that will be a big factor. Teams will have to know where he is because of that speed,” he said. “It may level out some of these safeties who are tilting toward A.J. Now when you’ve got a guy who can run like he can you’ve got a big threat going deep. I think that’s one of the big things we’ll have is speed on the field. I would think that with (Mixon’s) versatility – the ability to run and catch – I think that’s going to be big.”
But, for the Bengals to be able to best utilize Ross and Mixon, offensive coordinator Ken Zampese is going to need to take a big step forward in his play calling and improve from where he was last year as a rookie coordinator.
“For (Zampese) it was the first time doing it and going back he’s seeing things we could have done better as an offense, things he could have done better and things we maybe could have streamlined,” Dalton said. “All the different things you think about during the offseason. I expect us to take a big jump. I think with the talent that we have we can do that.”
Another key piece to the equation is the offensive line and how it compares to last year’s underperforming unit. You’d have to expect the line would be worse after losing its two best players in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. But, the front office and coaches seem confident in the players on the roster and Dalton is singing the same tune. Cedric Ogbuehi is moving to left tackle and Jake Fisher is assuming the starting job at right tackle after playing there at the end of last season. Both will need to vastly improve their games from where they were last season in order for the Bengals to have a winning record in 2017. After all, football is won and lost in the trenches.
“I totally expect them to get their job done,” Dalton said of his starting tackles. “I’m not going in saying, ‘Oh I’ve got to be completely different.’ They’re going to be just fine.”
The Bengals’ offensive skill positions boast high-caliber talent. It will be up to the offensive line to round out the group and Zampese to execute a winning game plan on a week-to-week basis come September.