Anthony Dixon broke on to the scene in the Colts game with 100 yards rushing and 22 more yards on three receptions. These are respectable numbers, but perhaps what spoke louder was his first NFL touch as he nearly take the head off of Colts linebacker Cody Glenn on an eight-yard screen pass.
Perhaps it was his vision in the backfield as he waited for his blocks to open holes against the Colts to take it into the end zone, and then his speed around the corner as he dove over the pylon against the Vikings. We've all seen him run through first contacts, drag multiple defenders, and quite frankly I think it's safe to say that most fans are quite impressed with the young Mississippi State product.
So soon we forget that last year, another rookie running back had wondrous success in the preseason, powered by a 16-carry, 135-yard performance against Oakland on his way to a preseason leading 249 rush yards. Glen Coffee would go on to disappoint during the regular season, confuse during the offseason, and retire before the preseason.
Is Anthony Dixon the next Glen Coffee? I sincerely doubt it, however I wouldn't count on beating the Colts 37-17 during the regular season, either.
We fans know just how deceptive the preseason can be, and I think it's fair to say that the jury is not out on Dixon until the middle of the 2010 regular season.
Last year, Coffee lit up the Oakland Raiders run defense, but what defense was it? The Raiders run defense has significantly improved this year, or so it appears, from being 29th in the league in overall rush defense last year. Dixon posted 69 yards on 21 carries in comparison to Coffee's 135 yards on 16 carries.
Dixon has shown flashes of success, as well as things left to be desired. The Raiders were a preseason top 10 rushing defense before facing the 49ers drove them all the way back to 30th in the league complements of Frank Gore's two-carry, 58-yard performance, and Brian Westbrook's 17 yards on two carries, and Dixon's hard-fought 69 yards on 21 carries.
Although I think it speaks louder for depth beyond Dixon, when Glen Coffee surprisingly retired, the 49ers went immediately to the free agent market and signed former Philadelphia Eagles star running back Brian Westbrook. Westbrook is clearly at the opposite end of the running back spectrum from Dixon.
Perhaps the best thing that Dixon has going for him is the situation he will most likely see the field during the regular season. He appears to be the back that the 49ers will bring in to face a defense that has already seen Frank Gore when the 49ers are ahead. The team being ahead will imply that the offensive line is getting the job done, which will leave Dixon to face opposing defenses with a fresh set of legs most likely in the fourth quarter.
As a developing running back in the NFL, one probably couldn't ask for a better scenario to learn. Although four inches shorter, Dixon has a similar build and style to Giants running back Brandon Jacobs. Both are stocky runners with quick feet, deceptive speed, and a devastating shoulder pad when delivered properly.
Even after playing for most of the game, Mike Singletary's intense conditioning program has Dixon seemingly performing better towards the end of preseason games.
Overall, considering Dixon was a sixth round pick, the 49ers couldn't have gone wrong here. Not only does Dixon have four years of running against tough SEC defenses, he has ability in speed versus size, power, moves, and vision. He has also demonstrated that he is starting to use experience to determine when to use his skills and talent in each.
Even top NFL run defenses will not be thrilled to see Dixon enter the game with fresh legs in the fourth quarter. I fully expect Dixon to take advantage of this situation, and expect that the option of resigning of Brian Westbrook will be based on his development.
The 49ers are in an obvious movement to build a team with young, home grown talent to make up for poor draft performance of the past, using proven veterans to fill in the gaps as necessary. I feel that Dixon will eventually find his valuable place in this offense, and I think that judging by our strength of schedule we will know this well before the end of this season.