Bengals rookie running back Joe Mixon turning heads in first training camp

Controversial pick will challenge vets for carries

CINCINNATI -- Joe Mixon burst through a hole and was off. As soon as he got by the linebackers, it was clear that no one was going to catch him.

It’s an impressive thing to a watch a 6-foot-1, 228-pound man outrun cornerbacks.

“He’s the kind of guy who can make an offense great,” Bengals running backs coach Kyle Caskey said.

That’s what the Bengals had in mind when they drafted Mixon. It was the most controversial pick of the draft. Mixon was only available with in the second round because of an incident three years ago at Oklahoma. Mixon punched a young woman after altercation at a restaurant.

A lot of teams would not take a risk on Mixon because of that.

Joe Mixon looks for a hole to run through during a drill at Bengals training camp on Aug. 1, 2017. (WCPO)

Bengals owner Mike Brown would and did.

“Mixon is a very young guy,” Brown said. “He (just) turned 21. The misbehavior he had was three years ago. He did a bad thing. He struck a young women, a reflexive action. He regretted it.  He has paid a price for it both in the judicial system and the university, where he was suspended. He met with the young lady. They’ve come to a settlement with each other. She has forgiven him publicly. He has a apologized publicly.

“I think it’s time to give a young guy like this a chance to do the best of his life as he can do. I don’t see what’s served by denying someone opportunity.”

Now that Mixon has been given that opportunity, it’s up to him to make the most of it. He knows that.

“I’m very blessed,” Mixon said. “I’m happy to be here.”

Mixon has been impressive so far in camp. He did miss the last part of the Thursday’s practice with a minor heel injury. It is not thought to be serious.

“He’s done very well,” head coach Marvin Lewis said. “We’re very pleased."

Caskey elaborated on the that.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Caskey said. “Maybe even a little bit more because he’s taken to the playbook better than we were expecting him to. He’s asking the right questions.

“He’s trying to be in every aspect of the offense instead of ‘here, you’re a rookie. Learn the runs.’ He wants to know the third-down game, the red zone. He’s doing a really good job. It’s a lot for new guy to take in, who hasn’t been in this style of offense.”

The Bengals have two established running backs in Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. Bernard is coming off major knee surgery but he’s looked healthy in training camp so far.

Hill has been the primary back. But since rushing for 1,124 yards and averaging 5.1 per carry as a rookie in 2014, he’s averaged 3.6 and 3.8 the last two years. Bernard has been the third-down specialist. He’s caught 56, 43, 49 and 39 balls in the his four years in the league and averaged 8.9 yards a catch.

“The competition is going to make everyone better,” Caskey said.

Mixon has the ability to take playing time from either of the two. He’s roughly the same size as Hill. He’s roughly as fast as Bernard -- Mixon ran a 4.43 40 at Oklahoma’s pro day -- with similar hands.

“He has a lot of talent,” Caskey said. “I hate to say he’s more talented than the other guys because we have a lot talent. He’s got to continue to improve in the other areas. Everybody knows what he can do when runs the ball.

“We just need him to be great in the passing game, in protection. When he does that, we can leave him on the field in different situations and not feel uncomfortable.”

Right now, Mixon says he’s just trying to fit in.

“If the coaches ask me to make a block, I’m going to go make a block,” Mixon said. “If the coaches ask me to make a play, I’m going to go make a play. I’m trying to put the team in the best position to win.

“I’m trying to be the best teammate I can be. I have goals, but I’ll keep those to myself. I’m trying to put the team in the best position to win.”

He’s done a good job of that so far.

“I’m glad we have him,” Caskey said. “I think we’re all glad we have him.” 

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