Mixon showed up ready to go for training camp, though, and Callahan described him as “the Energizer bunny,” a player who loves the game of football, loves his teammates and doesn’t stop.
“I think he’s that everything you want in that regard,” Callahan said. “He goes out and does his job. He plays hard. He practices hard. He puts the work in mentally and physically. He’s kind of been the heartbeat of our offense here, especially last year, but the last couple of years I would say, without being here, just watching from afar. Between him and A.J. (Green), those guys have been the driving forces behind the energy of the offense.”
Mixon was the running game last year, and 817 of his 1,137 yards last year came over the final eight games. Giovani Bernard played 40 percent of the offensive snaps, but had just 53 carries for 170 yards. No other running backs got carries, as third-string back Trayveon Williams played just seven offensive snaps with no touches and fellow 2019 draft pick Rodney Anderson was out with an ACL tear.
Callahan said the lack of rotation outside the top two running backs wasn’t necessarily planned that way but the Bengals didn’t have need to do things differently.
“We got really fortunate with both our backs being healthy for the whole season,” Callahan said. “When you have your two top backs healthy most of the time, your third one doesn’t play very often at this level. We’ve got two we think are really good and play really unique roles for us. Joe is going to play a lot because Joe is a volume carrier. He gets better as he gets more carries. As the season went along, we got better getting him more touches.
“… It’s hard to spread the ball around to everybody. You only get about 65 plays a game, 70 if you’re really moving along pretty good. For Joe and Gio, their roles are pretty defined. Gio’s a dynamic third-down back. He’s great in protection, great route runner. He can carry the ball when he needs to. Joe is exceptional on first and down. Joe is capable of playing on third down. So there’s just not enough carries to go around for everybody.”
Callahan said the Bengals have looked at ways to improve the offense as a whole, and getting Mixon more touches in the passing game might be part of that. He had 35 catches for 287 yards last year and has shown he is an all-around back.
The Bengals are still tweaking the running game as well, though, after a slow start in 2019. They eventually found more success with the pin and pull scheme but don’t want to rely just on that.
“Your scheme has to be varied,” Callahan said. “We fit our scheme the best we can out of the guys carrying the ball and the guys blocking up front. Some of that pin-and-pull stuff was successful for us. We still had some good zone runs as the season went along. We’re going to keep tweaking and keep adding and keep moving things around to get our guys in the best spots and give the ball to Joe and put him in schemes that he’s most comfortable with and runs well.”