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Joe Mixon returns to practice, hopes to be cleared

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Cincinnati's backfield is close to returning to full strength.

Joe Mixon (knee) is expected to play in the Bengals' Week 5 game against the Miami Dolphins, according to Marvin Lewis. The Bengals coach told reporters Wednesday the forecast on Mixon is a "bright sunny day out there. The sun is up," per the Cincinnati Enquirer's Paul Dehner Jr.

Mixon did tell reporters Wednesday he has not yet been cleared to return this week, but hopes to be, adding a guarantee he will play against Pittsburgh next week.

Mixon was in full pads during Wednesday's practice, again per Dehner, who reported linebacker Vontaze Burfict was also fully dressed for activity. Burfict is coming off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances.

Mixon brings a punch to a running game that was cruising before he underwent arthroscopic knee surgery following Cincinnati's Week 2 win over Baltimore on Thursday Night Football. The second year back averaged four or more yards per carry on each of his 38 totes in two contests, earning 179 yards and scoring once in the first two weeks.

In terms of per-carry average, the Bengals haven't seen a major decline without Mixon, but Giovani Bernard hasn't gotten quite as many carries in place of Mixon. The offense has shifted more toward the pass in the last two weeks, in part because Cincinnati was locked into a shootout in Week 4 and unsuccessfully tried to erase a deficit on the road in Week 3.

With both Mixon and Bernard potentially available this weekend, the Bengals can become a more balanced offense that was thriving through two weeks and has been a major reason for their 3-1 start.

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