Cincinnati Bengals: Mixon on track to return, but Walton’s role could increase

Mark Walton #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 30, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

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Mark Walton #32 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs the ball during the fourth quarter against the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on September 30, 2018, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Cincinnati Bengals running back Joe Mixon appears on track to return to action this week after missing the last two games because of a knee injury, but rookie Mark Walton’s role could continue to increase.

Walton was active for the first time two weeks ago and got his first carries last week in a 37-36 win at Atlanta, but with Giovani Bernard sitting out from the first two practices, it's looking like Walton could remain the No. 2 back Sunday when the Bengals (3-1) host the Miami Dolphins (3-1) — Walton's hometown team.

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Walton, a Miami native and product of the University of Miami, finished with five carries for nine yards and two catches for 28 yards, including a 24-yard grab on the Bengals’ third scoring drive for a 21-14 lead in the second quarter. Walton played the week before against the Panthers, but had no carries or catches.

“It felt good just going in, not knowing how much I was going to play, and they called my name to go in, and it felt great to get a groove from the preseason to the regular season and now getting in a groove with the guys and making plays for the team,” Walton said. “I’m just trying to continue to do that.”

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“It’s very important for me week to week to just keep growing,” he continued. “From the Falcons week to the Dolphins week, this is a huge game for us being back home and trying to remain undefeated at home and build off the finish at Atlanta. For me, it’s just trying to dial in everything I did last week and tuning into this week. It’s a whole new week so it’s a new mindset for me.”

Walton, a fourth-round pick in this year’s draft, appeared on offense for seven snaps two weeks ago at Carolina and had his one carry (for seven yards) wiped out by an Alex Redmond holding penalty. Last week at Atlanta, he played 28 of 73 offensive snaps (38.4 percent).

As of Thursday, Walton is the only healthy running back who’s played in a game. The Bengals picked up Thomas Rawls on Sept. 19 but he hadn’t played since the preseason with the Jets and was limited his first week of practice going into the Carolina game and remained inactive at Atlanta.

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“He’s been doing a great job,” Mixon said of Walton. “He’s young, but we’ve been doing whatever we can to prepare him for what he’s going into. Last week was his first week actually getting the ball and taking those reps, and he’s getting the speed down, he’s getting the physicality down and the mentality that he needs to go in and approach the game with.

“I’ve been doing whatever I can to get him up to speed with where we’re at, but for the most part, he’s been doing a heck of a job and I can’t do anything but commend him on that.”

Walton said Mixon’s guidance was helpful coming from a guy who was just in his shoes a year ago. The 5-foot-10, 202-pound back also has learned a lot from Bernard, who is similar in build at 5-foot-9 and 205 bounds and also hails from South Florida.

Both Walton and Bernard are from powerhouse high schools not far from one another – Walton coming out of Booker T. Washington High in Miami and Bernard from St. Thomas Aquinas in Fort Lauderdale.

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“Right when I got the call to come here, Gio was the first one to reach out,” Walton said. “I just started studying what Gio does and what helps him in this offense, and I started studying what helped Joe. I’ve just seen some things with Gio, he’s really at a disadvantage being 5-9, but he’s a tough dude. It’s just running tough and just making the best of what we do, making the right reads, hitting the holes on point. We’ve just got to be tough when we’re running the ball inside the tackles.”

Walton, who was limited by injury his final season at Miami, had a rough start in Cincinnati, finishing two preseason games with negative rushing yards and averaging less than one yard per carry through four preseason games.

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

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2018 Cincinnati Bengals: Five things to know

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

However, he knew it was going to be a learning process, and now he feels more comfortable. Last week “it just felt normal,” to him, Walton said.

Mixon believes it is important for Walton to continue getting reps for his own development but also for the team to build depth at the position.

“It’s just staying focused and dialed into what we’re doing because it’s easy to get lost throughout the weeks in the game plan,” Mixon said. “Even for me, I’ve been out for two weeks and I’m like, ‘Wait, we put that play in?’ It’s kind of tough for him, but he’s been healthy and doing all the things they asked of him, and he’s doing a great job. I’m sure throughout these next couple weeks he’s going to keep finding what he loves to do and the way he approaches the game. I’m going to do whatever I can to stay on him and pick his spirits up and just have him do whatever he can like how he got here. He’s got those gifted abilities, and I’m going to keep staying on him so we get the most out of him because he’s got a lot to offer.”


Dolphins at Bengals, 1 p.m., WHIO-TV Ch. 7, Ch. 12, 700, 1530, 102.7, 104.7

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