Bengals’ Mixon ‘ready to roll’ with ‘Fab Five’ after injury-shortened season

Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Mixon carries the ball during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

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Cincinnati Bengals' Joe Mixon carries the ball during NFL football practice in Cincinnati, Wednesday, July 28, 2021. (AP Photo/Aaron Doster)

CINCINNATI -- Joe Mixon didn’t get much of a chance to show why he earned his contract extension last year. A foot injury limited the Cincinnati Bengals running back to just six games in 2020, but he’s fully healthy now and has something to prove.

In his first interview since before the Week 6 injury, Mixon said he is anxious to get going again. He finished with 428 yards rushing and three touchdowns last year, but was on pace for a third straight 1,000-yard season.

“Man, last year was tough,” Mixon said. “Last year was definitely tough. I was bad. It sucked looking outside because I couldn’t, one, be there for my team. They needed me. I needed them. The best thing about that, though, was I had people around me at the time. I have people around me that I can lean on. I was definitely in a bad state. But one thing that they always did was keep me up. I appreciate everybody for that. It sucked and it’s over with. I get to move forward and move past it. Like I said, I’m excited for this year. I’m in great shape and I’m ready to roll.”

The 2017 second-round draft pick is preparing for his fifth season after earning a big contract extension last summer going into the final year of his rookie deal.

Not only is he anxious just to be playing again, but he also looks forward to embracing a bigger role in the offense and in the locker room now that Giovani Bernard is no longer with the team. Offensive coordinator Brian Callahan has said he would like to see Mixon used more as a three-down back.

“I feel like I’ve been like that,” Mixon said. “It’s a three-down world and I came into a role with Jeremy (Hill), having taken over that spot, first and second, and Gio always had his role as the third down guy. They ended up paying Gio, that got to keep him on the field. But for me it was a great complement with me and Gio. I’d go out there first and second, Gio would go out there on third. For me I was always able to go out there and showcase what I could do on third down. I feel like I’m one of the best backs at catching in the league. There’s a track record of it. At the end of the day I know for a fact when I’m out there on the field on third down and I get the ball in my hands there’s a lot of great things to look forward to. I look forward to it.”

The Bengals missed Mixon’s presence in all facets on the field last year, from his energy and emotion to his production in the running and passing game – the latter of which ramped up with the drafting of Joe Burrow.

Bengals coach Zac Taylor never put him on injured reserve with the hope he could make a quick recovery but every week that passed it became more evident a return was unlikely, especially once the team was already out of the running for a playoff spot. Mixon all the while was hoping for the best, but with two or three games left, the coaches told him just to “shut it down and get ready for next year,” he recalled.

Mixon, who had tried to return later during the Colts game after he injured his foot, was cleared to resume full activities in February or March, he said, and there are no remnants. He’s been running the ball well in training camp so far and has that same energy he showed before the injury.

“Y’all see me running every day, cutting,” he said. “I feel great, man. Like I said, I’m just ready to roll, get this ball rolling.”

Mixon is so excited about the potential of the Bengals’ offense this season, he’s started calling it the “Fab 5” with Burrow, Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd and Ja’Marr Chase joining him as the big threats for defenses – though right tackle Riley Reiff heard Mixon describing that group and said he should have thrown in the tight ends too.

With the weapons surrounding him, Mixon isn’t sure how much more he will be relied on to move the ball on the ground under new offensive line coach and run game coordinator Frank Pollack, but he’s excited to be a part of whatever the plan is, whether it’s running, catching or just blocking.

“That’s five people that’s real-life, big-play guys, home run guys,” Mixon said. “Everybody gotta touch the ball, but at the same time, I know for me I’m going to put the load on my back and take the initiative of carrying the team and doing what I’ve got to do to put us in a great position to win. For me, it’s always going to start up front and with me and how physical that I’m coming and playing the game honestly. I’m going to set the tone.”


Bengals at Buccaneers, 7:30 p.m., CBS Ch. 12 (Cincinnati); ABC Ch. 22 (Dayton), 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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