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McClain: Ryans, Slowik hoping Mixon finds the end zone like he did with Cincinnati

Mixon 2024 OTAs

John McClain, a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, is in his 48th year of covering the NFL in Houston, including 45 seasons at the Houston Chronicle.

Playing in the last of his seven seasons with Cincinnati, running back Joe Mixon ran for nine touchdowns. The last time the Texans had a back rush for at least nine touchdowns was 2012 when Arian Foster ran for 15.

Mixon's proclivity for scoring touchdowns, including three as a receiver in 2023, is one reason Head Coach DeMeco Ryans wanted him and Executive Vice President/General Manager Nick Caserio acquired him in March for a seventh-round draft choice.

Mixon ran for one fewer touchdown than the Texans generated on the ground in Ryans' first season. Ryans and Offensive Coordinator Bobby Slowik want a more consistently productive running game, especially in the red zone. They believe Mixon will provide that kind of production because he's shown a knack for running for touchdowns the closer he gets to the end zone.

"I feel like it's all about will and want-to when you get down there," Mixon said Thursday after the Texans' OTA. "Football is a grown-man's sport. You try to impose your will on the other team. Everybody works together."

Mixon makes it sound easy, but it's been anything but easy for the Texans. When they finished 10-7 last season, won the AFC South title and defeated Cleveland in the wild card round, the running backs combined for six touchdowns. Devin Singletary, who signed with the Giants in free agency, led the team with four.

The Texans expect more from Mixon. At 6-1, 220, he's got the size to show his physicality when the offense gets inside the opponent's 5-yard line.

Caserio acquired Mixon, who turns 28 in July, and redid his contract from one to three years. When Caserio and Ryans asked Slowik what he thought about getting Mixon to replace Singletary, he was excited about it. Slowik believes Mixon will fit comfortably playing the zone scheme.

"Not to sound like I'm joking when I say this, but he's a really good running back in all regards (and) it doesn't matter what run scheme you run," Slowik said. "He's run zone schemes and run gap schemes (and) he's been used as a receiver. He really has done everything."

Mixon is entering his eighth season. He has rushed for at least 1,000 yards four times. He's been incredibly durable, missing only four games over the last three seasons. In 2023, Mixon started 17 games. He ran for 1,034 yards, averaged 4 yards a carry and scored 12 touchdowns as a runner and receiver. He caught 52 passes for 376 yards.

Mixon touched the ball 309 times last season and produced 1,410 yards from scrimmage. He's averaged 12.3 touchdowns over the last three seasons. He hasn't lost a fumble since 2021. The Texans haven't had a back produce like Mixon since Foster became the best in team history.

"Now that he's here and we meet the person, I can see why he's always been successful," Slowik said. "He works his tail off. He has a great mindset. He's a professional that knows at this time of year and all the way through the season is continuously about growth. And he fits right in with the culture we have."

Considering the weapons the Texans have in their passing game with C.J. Stroud throwing to wide receivers Nico Collins, Stefon Diggs and Tank Dell and tight end Dalton Schultz, it should open up the running game. Slowik has a problem, but it's a good one – there's only one football to be distributed to all his weapons.

"Bobby sees all the talent and what we bring to the table," Mixon said. "I know he'll be using all my skill set. Everybody in this offense knows his turn is going to come.

"With the weapons we have, it's a hell of a thing. The sky's the limit. What we're doing in this offense, with what my skill set is, I think it can be a great thing for us in the running game. I think with the guys we have on the outside and in the middle, it's going to be a sight to see."

As far as what the running game can become when left tackle Laremy Tunsil reports and right tackle Tytus Howard finishes his rehab, Mixon uses a biblical term.

"When all those guys get back, it's going to be like the Red Sea," he said.

The running game could become downright scary if Dameon Pierce is able to adjust to the zone scheme and compete for carries with Mixon. Pierce and Mixon are pushing each other on and off the practice field.

"Dameon's a hard worker," Mixon said. "I love his work ethic. (Another) thing I love about him is he keeps me working hard, too. I've always had a great work ethic, but the way he works, I've got to keep rolling, too. With Dameon and me and the other backs in the room, we bring different things to the table, and we feed off each other."

As long as the backs are eating, Slowik is happy to provide the food.

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