It’s a simple goal, and they’re not entirely difficult for a professional athlete to pull off. But if you miss an assignment in Cincinnati Bengals running backs room, you’re doing them. They might be Instagrammed for posterity with the cheerful jeers of your teammates filling the background. You might do them on the practice field in front of everyone.
But you don’t want to do them.
He had to do a set, once. He missed a check down – but was quick to point out the coaches threw something different at him to trip him up. Throughout camp, the Bengals coaching staff has praised the rookie running back for his consumption of the offense and ability to not only digest it but then execute it in practice.
Friday night’s 23-12 preseason opening victory over Tampa Bay at Paul Brown Stadium was Mixon’s first real opportunity to prove it.
And there’s no greater oven to try and perform in than in the red zone, on third down, with a veteran quarterback like Andy Dalton calling out his protection from the shotgun. The Bengals offensive coaches put Mixon in specifically in that moment to test him, as Jeremy Hill (26 rush yards) had played the previous five plays on the drive.
Mixon was off Dalton’s right hip and had to slide across the line to fill a gap caused by left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi and left guard Clint Boling’s blocks. A Buccaneers defensive back would have a clear shot at Dalton if the rookie running back couldn’t put it all together in a split second.
He did. The ball got off in time. Dalton was clean.
“We’ve got a $100 million quarterback,” Mixon said. “So I’ve got to protect him at all costs.”
“He knows what he’s doing,” Dalton said. “For me back there, it’s communicating and helping him out as much as I can. If I know somebody’s coming I can say, hey, this dude’s coming so he can block his man….