Since arriving in Cincinnati the day after the Bengals drafted him in the second round, running back Joe Mixon has answered every question posed to him about his past in a cordial, albeit guarded, fashion.
But after two weeks he seems looser now that the conversations are turning more toward football. And he grows noticeably more animated when the subject switches from rushing to something he takes particular pride in, receiving.
“You can’t be one dimensional,” Mixon said. “You see a lot of one dimensional guys in the league. Or in college or in high school. Anybody can run the ball, but (receiving) is what you do to separate yourself.”
In addition to running for 2,027 yards and 17 touchdowns two seasons at Oklahoma, Mixon caught 65 passes for 894 yards and nine scores.
“It’s all about soft hands,” Mixon said. “Catch the ball, and you’ll have that comfort and balance with the ball. You have to know hand placement and things like that.”
Mixon worked on softening his hands by spending hours at the park catching passes from his father. Mixon also watched a lot of film on Hall of Famer Marshall Faulk.
“One of the best to do it as a running back,” Mixon said of Faulk. “He was very complete.”
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said he’s excited about the extra dimension – and deception – Mixon can bring to the offense.
“With his versatility – the ability to run and catch – I think that’s going to be big,” Dalton said. “One of the things that helps with a guy that is versatile is you’re not tipping anything – you could be running the ball and you could be throwing it.”
The Bengals like to utilize their backs in the passing game, with Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard combing to average to 65 catches per year the last three seasons.
And Hill said Mixon’s ability to catch the ball is one the things that has stood out during the last two weeks of voluntary workouts.
“He’s great,” Hill said. “Especially a guy with his size and speed, it’s definitely rare for a guy to have soft hands like that and be able to run around and get separation and catch the ball and do all of those things.
“I can see why they brought him in,” Hill added. “He’s definitely a talented guy. I’m expecting him to come in this year and help us win football games. I don’t think anyone in this locker room expects anything different.”
Certainly not offensive coordinator Ken Zampese.
“I’m so excited, I can hardly stand myself,” Zampese said minutes after the Bengals drafted Mixon. “This guy can flat go — very, very good football player — strong, explosive, change of direction, feel and instincts, catches the ball. (We) can move him around in different places of the field. (He) interviewed football IQ-wise very well, protections, explained his offense well. I think he has a very, very bright future.”