CINCINNATI (AP) — Joe Mixon took a handoff from Andy Dalton and found the hole off right guard for a 25-yard run in the first quarter of a game at Pittsburgh on Oct. 22. The Bengals lost 29-14, falling to 2-4. For Mixon, it would be the longest run of his rookie season.
That's not what Cincinnati expected when it took a public relations hit and drafted Mixon in the second round last year.
But it wasn't only Mixon who came up short. Giovani Bernard had a pair of 25-yard runs as his best efforts. The Bengals' running game finished last in the league with those 25-yard runs as their longest from scrimmage.
The Bengals' running game was one of the worst in their history. In four games, the running backs failed to produce a run of at least 10 yards. Andy Dalton had a 25-yard scramble in one game that matched the biggest gain on the ground all season.
"I'm glad it's a new year," Mixon said. "We definitely are going to make that up, for sure. I can tell you that now."
Mixon is going to be leading the way.
The Bengals were so enamored of his ability to catch passes as well as break long runs that they took him in the second round of the draft, knowing they'd get a public backlash. He was suspended for his freshman season at Oklahoma for punching a woman in the face.
He made little impact as a rookie, sharing time with Jeremy Hill. His only noteworthy game was a 114-yard effort over winless Cleveland on Nov. 26. He had 96 yards in the final game against Baltimore.
Unhappy with the results, Mixon changed his diet in the offseason and lost 12 pounds, getting back to his playing weight at Oklahoma. He's looked good in training camp at 216 pounds, with coach Marvin Lewis singling him out for praise on Wednesday.
"I've been excited about Joe Mixon and what he's doing," Lewis said.
Hill left as a free agent after the season, leaving Mixon and Bernard to share the bulk of the plays at running back. Coordinator Bill Lazor has redesigned the playbook to fit their ability to catch passes as well as run the ball.
"He knows we both can do anything," Bernard said. "It's not the situation of a first-down back or a second-down back or third-down, it's none of that. It's just plug-and-play."
The biggest problem with the running game last season was the offensive line, which provided little room to run. The Bengals made it their overriding priority in the offseason, trading with Buffalo for left tackle Cordy Glenn and drafting Ohio State center Billy Price in the first round.
"There's been a lot of urgency within the offensive line to get things moving, and it shows," Bernard said.
Gio's donation: Bernard helped his future mother-in-law donate a van to an injured Marine veteran on Tuesday, the team's day off. Bernard drove the van — owned by his future mother-in-law — during his rookie season.
"It was obviously hard to see it go, but it was fun to see it go to a family that needs it," Bernard said.
Cleared to practice: Linebacker Brandon Bell passed a physical on Wednesday and was cleared to practice. He was limited for the first five days of camp.
Play of the day: Tyler Boyd reached over cornerback Darqueze Dennard for a catch in the corner of the end one during a goal-line drill, drawing cheers from teammates. He also made a slick over-the-middle catch during an 11-on-11 drill. Boyd was slowed by a knee injury last season and finished with only 22 catches in 10 games.
No telling: Lewis declined to say whether Tyler Eifert would play in any preseason games. The tight end is coming off his second back procedure and was cleared to practice on Monday.