Bengals running back Joe Mixon officially has the The Bag in the form of a four-year extension and now head coach Zac Taylor has to decide how he's going to fill it.
Before Wednesday's practice Taylor hinted he'll use Mixon more like he did the second half of last season, when Mixon led the NFL in carries, as opposed to the first half of the season, when quarterback Andy Dalton led the NFL in pass attempts.
But with rookie quarterback Joe Burrow 11 days away from his NFL debut against the Chargers without the benefit of a preseason, Taylor is talking about the running game and defense.
"It certainly helps. You can take that pressure off of them, and obviously we expect the defense to play really well this year and that's the quarterback's second best friend," Taylor said. "We just feel like we're making great strides as a team to just play better overall complementary football this year."
Taylor lived through this in Los Angeles when he coached an overall No. 1 quarterback in Jared Goff and how a quarterback's rookie contract allowed the Rams to stockpile a roster good enough to get to the Super Bowl. With Mixon in the fold, the Bengals have committed about $200 million in the same time frame of quarterback Joe Burrow's rookie contract.
"There's no hiding that. That's a real part of what's going on," Taylor said. "And I think the organization has done a great job of adding the necessary pieces to give us the best chance of success this year. And so it's been an eventful offseason for sure and into training camp. And again, now we just got to go out there and produce."
MIXON MEETS THE MEDIA: Mixon met the media for the first time Wednesday since he crunched the Browns on a career-best 162 yards in last season's finale at Paul Brown Stadium. As for Burrow, Mixon made it clear he's looking for a third contract from the Bengals.
"I think what popped off the most about Joe Burrow is his leadership and how he takes the huddle," Mixon said. "He's a very confident guy. He goes about things so professionally. I think he does a great job leading. He's stepped in - that's what we needed - and I believe he will be able to get the job done at a high level. I really don't think he's your typical rookie. He's definitely going to be a great guy here in this league for years to come and I hope I can finish my career here with him."
READY TO ROLL: Taylor is in regular-season schedule mode, trying to sync this week to opening week. The Bengals' Sunday opener against the Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium is followed by a Thursday night game in Cleveland. So Taylor has a 6:25 p.m. mock game scheduled for this Thursday on the PBS field before they give the players the weekend off while they cut the roster to 53 on Sunday.
So no more practices where the media can see 11-on-11 and seven-on-seven. And it doesn't look like there's much to be see because the Bengals are trying to stay as healthy as possible. Wide receiver A.J. Green took some throws from Burrow on air, but also spent time running on the rehab field. Defensive tackles Geno Atkins and Mike Daniels didn't dress, but were on the field and looked to be getting rested up. Safety Shawn Williams (calf) and linebacker Jordan Evans (hamstring) are still rehabbing.
FOUR QUARTERBACKS: Hard to say how the Bengals are going to break up their four quarterbacks. They may think they need to protect three on the roster because of the Covid. Or they may think having the ability to call up guys from the practice squad to the active roster without exposing them to waivers is protection enough. And, four players per week on the practice squad can be protected from being claimed. So they could always go back to keeping just two, Burrow and Ryan Finley.
Whatever it is (and Taylor has been saying this since the NFL scouting combine), they're not worried they have three quarterbacks on the roster in their second or rookie years with a total of three starts among them. And that Brandon Allen is a fourth-year guy with just three NFL starts.
"We feel comfortable with the guys we've got there," Taylor said. "Sometimes, years (of) experience in the system accounts for something. You might bring in a guy in his eighth year, but he doesn't have a lot of experience with what you're doing. Yeah, he's got some big picture awareness, but you look at two of our guys (Finley and Jake Dolegala) that have been here for two years and have heard everything we've said since we installed the offense from day one.
"Brandon Allen, in a lot of ways, has four years in the system in L.A. and Denver. Very similar. Then he comes here. And Joe Burrow has soaked it all in. We talked to him directly since the day we drafted him. He's absorbed as much as any player in the system for four months can absorb."
ON THE UP AND UP: Mixon denied that the migraine headaches that kept him out of practice last week were related to the contract. He said he felt better Sunday, when he was back on the field for the first time in nearly week.
"I was definitely dealing with migraines. Things got better probably, I think, on Sunday," Mixon said. "If anything comes about it again, then I'll talk to the coaches and we'll go about it that way. But definitely had them. I feel a lot better after talking with the doctors and things that they gave me. But if it comes about again, then we'll have to act accordingly. But for the most part, everything's all fine right now."
Maybe, in a way. It was the contract.
"I never really dealt with migraines," Mixon said. "It's a lot going on and things like that. Don't really sleep much. But that's probably what it was (lack of sleep). But feeling a lot better."