Joe Mixon gets warm reception in debut for Bengals

CINCINNATI -- It might be odd that one of the biggest cheers for the Cincinnati Bengals on Friday night came on a simple 5-yard gain by Joe Mixon.

But considering Mixon has the potential to be one of the most exciting rookies to suit up for Cincinnati in several years, it makes a little more sense.

The debut of the Bengals' second-round pick was a success. Mixon played one half, rushing six times for 31 yards and catching a pass for 11 yards in the Bengals' 23-12 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the preseason opener for both teams.

It was the reception that was most impressive. Mixon took a short pass from quarterback AJ McCarron, stiff-armed the first defender and shook him off as he dove for the tackle. Mixon wove around the next two defenders, and then finally was taken down.

The Bengals lined Mixon up as the lone back, in the I-formation behind H-back Ryan Hewitt, and also split Mixon out wide as a receiver. In pass protection, he picked up a rushing defender on third-and-2 in the red zone.

"He’s really taken to it, and our coaches have done a great job getting him up to speed," Bengals player personnel director Duke Tobin told the announcing crew during the game. "There’s a lot to learn in that position, and you have to prove to be worthy in pass protection before they’re going to trust you long term. And so we’re working through that with him. And obviously the run skills are natural, and his instincts are natural. He’s got all the physical qualities you look for."

Mixon was a center of controversy leading up to the draft because of a 2014 incident in which he punched a woman. Mixon accepted a plea deal in the criminal case stemming from the incident. Surveillance video of the altercation, which showed Mixon throwing a punch that fractured multiple bones in Amelia Molitor's face, was released by Mixon's attorneys in December, more than two years after the incident.

QB depth chart: The pecking order clearly is Andy Dalton, McCarron and Jeff Driskel. That won't change anytime soon. Dalton looked fairly sharp in his only series of the game, completing 4 of 5 passes for 38 yards. However, Dalton's night ended with an interception by Buccaneers cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, who jumped in front of Bengals wide receiver Brandon LaFell.

Could Driskel play his way onto the 53-man roster? The Bengals had the luxury of keeping three quarterbacks last year, but it will be hard to make the numbers work this year.

When it was starters vs. starters, the Bengals looked...: Rusty. Missed tackles and assignments and Dalton’s interception capped off the Bengals' first two series. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict missed a tackle that turned into an 11-yard gain, and Bucs QB Jameis Winston picked on Bengals cornerback Darqueze Dennard for a 29-yard completion to receiver Mike Evans.

The Buccaneers drove all the way to the Bengals' 2-yard line, but had to settle for a field goal after cornerback Adam Jones successfully covered Evans on two straight incomplete passes in the end zone.

One reason to be concerned: The Bengals have a long time to iron out their problems, but the first series by the defense certainly was alarming. The Bengals were notorious last year for allowing a touchdown or score on the first series of the game. It was promising that they tightened up to force a field goal on the first series Friday, but at least for now, the offseason promise of improved speed on defense hasn't surfaced.

That guy could start: Right guard Trey Hopkins. Hopkins has been the go-to guy whenever Andre Smith has been hurt at training camp. Hopkins filled in again for Smith, who sat out. Hopkins had at least one play where he helped open a big hole for Mixon. The Bengals repeatedly have said they don't know who the starting five offensive linemen are, but Hopkins certainly could end up as one of them.

Rookie watch: Linebacker Carl Lawson, one of the defensive stars of camp, lined up at strongside linebacker and at defensive end on passing situations. Receiver Josh Malone caught an 8-yard touchdown from Driskel. Defensive end Jordan Willis had a sack. Receiver John Ross, a first-round pick, did not play.

Kicking competition: Randy Bullock and fifth-round draft pick Jake Elliott essentially have been tied through most of training camp, and neither one did anything to widen that gap. Elliott was good from 45 yards and Bullock was good from 54 and 49 yards. Both handled kickoffs, and Elliott showed impressive leg strength on his kicks.

Welcome back, Burfict: It's been a long time since anyone saw Vontaze Burfict or Tyler Eifert in a preseason uniform. Burfict hasn't played in a preseason game since 2014 due to injuries and a suspension, and Eifert was hurt for all of the 2016 offseason. Both had short appearances Friday, with Burfict playing in both the base and nickel defense and Eifert lining up as a tight end and a fullback, catching one pass for 4 yards. Each played one series.