The Bengals had lots of reasons to be happy about their victory over the Buccaneers. But, the play of Joe Mixon made the W even better.
If there was one thing gleaned from the Bengals’ win over Tampa Bay, fans had a glimpse of the future. That potential was showcased with the first unit and flashed gems of serious versatility. Joe Mixon made his debut against the Buccaneers and didn’t disappoint. As training camp and preseason present more opportunities, there could be a genuine chance of Mixon moving into the starting position.
There’s always the question of how he gets used. Marvin Lewis isn’t keen on starting rookies and Mixon falls smack dab in the middle of that problem. But, with the former Sooner’s play on Friday and his impressiveness during camp, there’s a chance Marvelous Marv could break. There could be a chance for Joe to line up with the first team on September 10.
No, I’m not denouncing Jeremy Hill as the incumbent bum of the backfield. But, this is going to be a crucial year for him. After fighting his way through injuries and a mediocre 2016 season, the pressure is on. Giovani Bernard has shown marvelous recovery ability from his ACL tear and surgery. In essence, Mixon will have more than enough opportunity to show what he can do.
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After strutting his stuff against the Bucs, Mixon left a lasting impression on fans, players and coaches. The Bengals may have been ridiculed for taking him in the draft. But, he may turn out to be the shining star of the rookie running back class.
With Mixon’s versatility comes responsibility. There’s more to being a great running back than just piling up yards. Today’s defensive coordinators love to blitz. Picking up blocks and protecting the QB is part of the job. Mixon showed his prowess under pressure against the Bucs. He did a wonderful job protecting both Andy Dalton and AJ McCarron. Lewis had a chance to witness what he mentioned before the Week 1 game.
"“He’s very natural at the other stuff. And then he is going to get an opportunity to protect the quarterback,” Lewis said, per ESPN. “The rest of the stuff he does very naturally, like running or catching.”"
After the game, Lewis was pleased with Mixon’s play but couldn’t comment on his pass blocking technique until he watched film. Yet, there was no hesitation from Dalton on his performance.
"“I think for him, it’s seeing everything. I thought he did well. It’s about communication and knowing where we’re going, and who his guys are. He’s big, strong, and he can protect. For a young back like that, it’s all about just knowing where to go.”"
Mixon is a raw and hungry runner. His ability to make defenders miss or lose their grip is a sweet talent. But, there’s the ever-present shadow of Bernard and Hill. There will have to be a serious problem with Hill’s game for Lewis to bench him.
Bernard? Well, he didn’t see action against the Buccaneers. All things considered, that doesn’t mean he’s had a setback. The Bengals are going to play it safe with their multi-talented back. When he’s fully capable of taking hits at full speed, Gio will be in the mix.
Other than the other veteran running backs, the only hindrance to Mixon is…himself. Lewis summed it up when he talked about his chance to be an immediate starter.
"“He did a nice job and he’s just one ankle (injury) from having an opportunity to do a little bit more.”"
Hopefully, it won’t take that kind of help. But, the young man is close…so close. Versatility is always a welcome problem.