One of the most compelling story lines since the Cincinnati Bengals used their second round selection on Joe Mixon was how touches will be spread out between the team’s three second-round running backs. It seems with the first week of the season fast approaching the coaches have a pretty simple plan. They are going with whoever has the hot hand.
“The flow is more important than the touches,” running backs coach Kyle Caskey told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “You see it in the preseason when we are forced to put guys in because we want to get them playing time. We are more worried about touches in the preseason and play numbers and play counts. In the regular season we are more worried about production and winning.
“You plan initially for it and try to put guys in the right place for what their talents can do and once the game gets going there is a flow to it,” Caskey said of the team’s plan against Baltimore. “If a guy does have a little juice to him at that time then you stick with him.”
It makes a lot of sense to let the flow decide most of the touches. The next question is who would get the first crack at establishing the hot hand, but the Bengals’ depth chart probably established at the very least Jeremy Hill will be out there first. He will probably have to show something early though with two very capable backs behind him: Giovani Bernard followed by Mixon, if the Bengals’ depth chart holds true.
All three backs possess at least one thing they do well. Hill has been one of the most productive goal line backs as all but eight of his 29 touchdowns have come from within five yards of the end zone. Bernard is a great third down back, but he does possess the strength to run between the tackles if necessary. He’s also a capable blocker. Mixon seems to be a great combination of the two other backs, but his inexperience has the Bengals pumping the breaks on relying on him too quickly.
Hill and Bernard are established running backs with experience in the NFL, and this is Mixon’s first regular-season game. He already has shown he’s capable of making rookie mistakes when he fumbled a hand off from Andy Dalton in the third preseason game.
The Bengals are going to ease Mixon into the speed of the game, and make him earn his carries. Still, Mixon doesn’t want you to think he feels any added pressure. As he told the Cincinnati Enquirer, it’s “just another game.” Mixon later admitted that wasn’t entirely true, but his position coach still really appreciated the response from the young rookie.
“Joe is as much of a team player I’ve been around,” Caskey tells the Enquirer. “He really does want to win, he’s also a very confident person in his abilities. In saying it’s just another game, it’s his way of saying he’s approaching it the same way he approaches everything.”
It is great to see that none of the three backs are letting their ego get in the way of letting each other succeed. It seems natural that these guys should have such a dynamic, but it isn’t always that players who have the talent these three possess play nicely with each other. After all, these guys want to help their team win, and the only way they can do that is by being a productive unit collectively.
Caskey will likely be a very busy man on Sunday keeping track of all three of his talented running backs. As fans, we’ll have a lot of fun seeing just how it shakes out for them as well.