CINCINNATI — The Bengals are banking on fifth-year running back Joe Mixon to bounce back in 2021.
The 24-year-old only played in six games last season due to a foot injury. With Giovani Bernard no longer in town, Mixon is expected to take the reins of the backfield and be an every down back for the Bengals.
"Joe does all the things we ask him to do. He’s catching the ball really well. He’s getting detailed. He knows who to block in the protections and how to do it," Bengals head coach Zac Taylor said this week. "He’s a really strong runner. He really buys in to the schemes that Frank (Pollack) employs and what we’re asking him to do up front."
Mixon posted back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons in 2018 and 2019, but he wasn't on the field for many third downs because Bernard was a better pass protector.
Mixon's ability to make the right decisions as a pass blocker will go a long way in giving him a chance to have a career year—not only as a runner, but as a receiver out of the backfield.
“I don’t want Joe (Mixon) to leave the field, personally," Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan said last month. "I think he’s up to that challenge. He has some things he has to improve pass-protection-wise. Joe shouldn’t come off the field, he should be on the field every down. He’s aware of that. Ultimately, I see Joe as the primary guy to start in all facets of the running game.”
The Bengals believe Mixon has the talent to be a game changing player. If they didn't, they wouldn't have signed him to a four-year, $48 million extension last August. This is his chance to answer the bell in pass protection, which will lead to more opportunities for him both on the ground and in the passing game.
That doesn't mean that Mixon will play every offensive snap. The Bengals like veteran Samaje Perine, who will likely be their second-string running back. They also believe rookie Chris Evans could eventually be their long-term replacement for Bernard.
Mixon should get more snaps than ever before, but the Bengals will make sure they don't overwork their franchise runner.
"Having Joe Mixon on the field makes us better," Taylor said. "We want him to be full go for the length of the season. So you don't need to give him every snap. You've got to delegate in a sense and make sure there's roles for other guys where everybody is fresh and giving you the best effort."
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