Joe Mixon may be a rookie, but he’s been among the most consistent performers for the Cincinnati Bengals in training camp.
But camp is over, paving the way for live game reps in the preseason. That begins Friday night when the Bengals host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, which will be the first real NFL action Mixon sees.
The second-round pick out of Oklahoma was viewed as one of the best running back talents in this year’s NFL Draft. Throughout offseason workouts and camp, Mixon reinforced that belief by consistently impressing coaches in seemingly every facet of his game.
Even head coach Marvin Lewis has been unable to hide his excitement for what Mixon will bring to the Bengals. Lewis is an old-school coach who tends to shy away from relying on rookies, but even he can’t deny the potential of Mixon, who could be Cincinnati’s top running back this year.
“His personality, his work ethic, how he comes and approaches practice every day,” Lewis said Tuesday of what’s impressed him about Mixon. “From the very first rookie camp here in Cincinnati, you felt that, but you aren’t sure because it’s a very limited exposure. Now that’s a day-to-day thing with the ups and downs in camp — being tired, being asked to run and finish every play. He likes to do that. He likes to run down that field like he is scoring a touchdown, and we are going to give him a lot of opportunities to do that.”
It’s great that the Bengals are allowing Mixon to show what he can do and the excitement he brings to the field is clear.
“That’s just part of his make up, and that’s good,” Lewis said. “He can never lose that. That’s the other part of it, you don’t want him to lose that. I hope he keeps that enthusiasm that he has now. We have to continue with that, because he is still a very young guy.”
Lewis will occasionally dish out some nice praise for rookies, but he’s normally a guy who wants new players to prove their worth before endorsing them. Seeing how much he gushes over Mixon is really encouraging to see, and it speaks to the kind of role this rookie could have as soon as Week 1.
However, one thing Lewis is hoping to see more from Mixon is pass protection. It’s no secret that Cincinnati’s offensive line is a big concern, so the last thing this offense can have is a back who can’t pass protect either. That’s the oft forgotten trait that can keep even the most talented backs glued to the bench.
That, along with keeping a consistent pad level, is what Lewis is eager to see from Mixon on Friday against a solid Buccaneers defense.
“Play with great pad level, and protect the football. He’s very natural at the other stuff,” Lewis said of what he’s hoping to see from Mixon in the preseason. “And then he is going to get an opportunity to protect the quarterback. The rest of the stuff he does very naturally, like running or catching. But (I want to see) his pad level, and making sure his tracks are correct. Those are the things we are going to continue to evaluate and make sure he gets up to speed on and stays consistent. So far, he has been very good with that, and I don’t expect that to change.”
As good as Mixon has been, the Bengals are still listing him fourth on the depth chart entering the preseason. That ultimately means little, especially since the third-string guy is Cedric Peerman, who remains on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list and has yet to practice. Peerman also is someone who rarely touches the ball, but that’s not the case with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard.
Those are the two guys Mixon will be challenging for carries this season. Both have been good in camp, so Mixon needs to be great to ensure he’s getting a consistent workload throughout his rookie campaign.
It certainly appears Mixon did all he could in camp. Now, he’ll look to keep it up in live game reps on Friday.