Joe Mixon: "It's not about winning anybody over; I come here to work and I'm coming here to be the best teammate and best person and do whatever I can around the community, trying to get everybody together because we're all one within the Bengals organization."
If they happened to look up at the walkway above the Bengals weight room, they saw Joe Mixon take his first steps in Paul Brown Stadium Saturday.
And the fans at the Bengals draft party cheered and yelled welcome as he paused, not quite sure if it was for him. He held up his right hand and waved on his way to the elevator with the cheers chasing after him.
"It means a lot," Mixon allowed later to a huddle of scribes. "Just to come here, walk in and see all the fans and their reaction. It makes me very excited to go to work, and I can't wait to be with the team."
If they were charting Mixon's media debut they would have to have given him 4.5 yards, a solid carry he and the Bengals hope ends one of the ugliest chapters in draft history.
"It's tough. I wouldn't wish it upon anybody what I went through because at the end of the day, it happened three years ago but I'm still going through it today," Mixon said. "Like I said, I wouldn't wish it upon anybody. I'm trying to do the best things (I can) moving forward and getting through — my teammates helped me out a lot at Oklahoma and I'm sure my teammates will help me do the same thing here."
Mixon, wearing cut-off jeans and a Bengals No. 25 T-shirt that his aunt supplied for Friday night's red-eye from Oakland, Calif, looked almost relieved.
Running backs coach Kyle Caskey was one of the first to greet him when he appeared in the draft room with a handshake and hug and when he whispered jokingly, "Gio (Bernard) is going to have a problem with that (number on) jersey," Mixon smiled and said, "I'll fix it."
The Bengals gave him No. 34, a new start that he hopes helps end the nightmare that began in 2014 when he hit Amelia Molitor after an exchange of words and broke her jaw. He was suspended for the entire '14 season at Oklahoma and when the video went public it exposed a disturbing incident that got him banned from the NFL Scouting Combine and knocked him out of the top 15 of the draft and the Bengals picked him at No. 48.
It's been a week since Mixon and Molitor reached an agreement to her civil suit and met each other to express their regrets
I'm just glad that it's over with. She's glad that it's over with, and we both acknowledged that we made a mistake and (are) looking forward to moving past it," Mixon said. "It was a huge weight off our shoulders because we weren't able to talk to each other and apologize and I was the initiator for the most part. But it really meant a lot to her for me to come in and acknowledge what happened that night, and she did the same thing, and I've got nothing but respect for her."
Mixon and the Bengals know that the incident will always be a part of him and the club is preparing ways to surround him with support from his teammates and staffers. First on the agenda was a Saturday night dinner with fellow running back Giovani Bernard and right end Michael Johnson and director of player relations Eric Ball.
But he knows what's ahead. If he didn't, national reporters from ESPN and NFL Network descended overnight to remind him.
"At the end of the day, it's going to be there regardless. I've been trying to do whatever I can and move forward, and unfortunately, it's going to be with me the rest of my life and I've got to learn to deal with it the best way possible and try to do whatever I can to move forward.
"It's not about winning anybody over; I come here to work and I'm coming here to be the best teammate and best person and do whatever I can around the community, trying to get everybody together because we're all one within the Bengals organization."
Running back Jeremy Hill showed what kind of teammate he is, considering Mixon is taking dead aim at his playing time. Hill not only tweeted after the pick that the Bengals now had the best backfield in the league, but he spoke with Mixon on the horn.
"We talked for a little bit. He just said he's happy to have me and can't wait to get (to work) with me," Mixon said. "We're going to do a lot of work in this backfield and (I'm) just coming in trying to lead by example, try to be a vocal leader on the field and at the same time, make plays, so we're just going to make it happen."
With Mixon, Hill (2014), and Bernard (2013), the Bengals have used a second-round pick on three running backs in the last five drafts. Also rounding out the list most likely to make the roster at running back is special teams co-captain Cedric Peerman. Bernard is coming off an ACL tear, but is expected back early in the regular season. So there is some jostling to be done and Mixon embraces it.
"I've faced a lot of adversity and I'm still facing it, but at the end of the day, you go on the football field, and it relieves a lot of stress," Mixon said. "I'm sure a lot of football players do it, but at the same time, this is really an opportunity for me to be around my brothers, because we are brothers here, and at the end of the day, we're looking to win and we're going to go compete."
His favorite backs are Oklahoma's own Adrian Peterson, as well as Marshawn Lynch and Le'Veon Bell. The Bengals hope he can match the running and catching of the Steelers' Bell, which would give the Bengals a counter to the Pittsburgh tandem of Bell and receiver Antonio Brown with Mixon and A.J. Green.
"He's very shifty. His patience is out of (this) world, Mixon said of Bell. "He creates a lot of space and knows how to make people miss."
Now he'll face him twice a year and he hopes to show his own style.
"I can't wait. I know whoever can control the line of scrimmage is most likely to win in a lot of football games and we're looking to set the tone right off the bat," said Mixon, who took no time to learn the dynamics of the AFC North. I try to model it a little bit but at the same time, I just try to do what I do. I try to do a little bit of everything — try to make people miss, try to create a little bit of space, try to run past people — (I) try to do everything."