The Bengals' release of Giovani Bernard last month created a void in Cincinnati's offense. It's a chasm that Bengals offensive coordinator Brian Callahan expects to fill with Joe Mixon.
The OC said the starting running back shouldn't come off the field in 2021.
"I don't want Joe to leave the field, personally, and I think he's up to that challenge," Callahan said, via WKRC-TV. "He has some things he has to improve pass-protection-wise. Joe shouldn't come off the field. He should be on the field every down. He's aware of that."
Mixon missed the last 10 games of the 2020 season due to injury, ending the season on injured reserve. The starting back played just 60 percent of the snaps in 2018 and 2019, per Next Gen Stats. Before his injury last year, the Bengals showed signs of their plan to increase his snap count. Mixon played 72 percent or more of the snaps in Weeks 3-5 before suffering the injury that would end his season. At the time, he was on pace for his third-straight 1,000-plus yard rushing season.
If Mixon stays healthy in 2021, he should be one of the few workhorse backs in the NFL.
The 24-year-old combines speed and wiggle in space with the willingness to grind between the tackles. That skillset allows him to stay on the field in any situation. Despite being criminally underused in the passing game in his first three seasons, Mixon possesses the catching ability to thrive in all three downs. He was on pace to shatter his career receiving marks before suffering the injury last year.
With Bernard's skill as a pass protector and receiver out of the backfield, Mixon often came off the field in key spots. With the savvy veteran gone to Tampa, Mixon is the clear leader in the Bengals backfield.
Samaje Perine projects as Mixon's backup and would take over if an injury surfaces again. The Bengals didn't use an early pick in last week's draft on a running back, instead waiting until the sixth round for Michigan's Chris Evans. Evans projects as an RB who could enjoy a better NFL career than college tenure given his pass-catching acumen. Evans could play a role on third downs as the season progresses if the Bengals trust his pass-protection skills.
"We feel really good about (Mixon and Perine)," Callahan said. "How that role shakes out after that is up to the competition after that. Chris fits that mold of a guy who has a multi-faceted skillset. He can go protect, he's smart enough to diagnose, and he's got the strength and pass-catching ability to be a threat there. It's going to be a fun competition to be around, but ultimately I see Joe as the primary guy to start in all facets of the running game."
The key to the Bengals' plan is Mixon staying healthy. He'd only missed four games in his previous three seasons before 2020, so right now, we wouldn't consider him injury prone.
It's all shaping up for a heavy workload for Mixon in the Bengals' flashy offense.