From his point of view, Kenneth Dixon is no longer the man he was. When he steps onto the field with his team in Indianapolis on Monday, he wants everyone to know that.
“I want them to see, ‘Here’s this cheerful kid. He is not what everyone portrays him to be, and a good child of God,’ ” Dixon said.
Flash back to two years ago, and the 2016 fourth-round draft pick was a running back on the rise. In his rookie season, Dixon ran for 382 yards and two touchdowns, and caught 30 passes for 162 yards and a touchdown. A player like that, for a team aching to improve offensively, was a gift.
That was before he was slapped with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing-drug policy in March 2017. A torn meniscus, suffered before training camp, ended his season. And if that wasn’t enough, Dixon earned another two-game ban in September for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
“It was just hard,” Dixon said. “You did a lot of things that you know you shouldn’t have did. You look at your team coming back in, and you’re not able to go. It’s like you know you want to mature on a lot of levels, and try to do things a lot of different ways to get back in.”
To really find his way back to the Ravens, he couldn’t just focus on football. Dixon, both on his own volition and the team’s advice, turned to therapy. A year and half later, he’s stuck with it.
“Yeah, it’s really good for me. I get to go and talk to [my counselor] and tell him stuff,” he said.
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Whereas another person could look at their roadblocks piling up and lash out, the 24-year-old said he's doing the opposite. He even meditates.
“It helped my game a lot. I’m focusing on me,” he said. “I’m looking inside, what I want to do, how I want to do it. How can I do things different ways? How can I think better? How can I be out there and breathe better? Just be in a one mindset of good mindset.”
More obstacles have jumped into Dixon’s path this year, with bothersome hamstring problems keeping him out of the Ravens’ two preseason games so far.
And then there’s running back Alex Collins, who the Ravens signed last year after losing Dixon. Right now, it looks like Collins is in line to keep the starting role — he rushed twice for 26 yards in his first appearance of the preseason, the win over the Los Angeles Rams last week. Even to emerge as the second-string back, Dixon will have to outbid Buck Allen as well as undrafted rookies Gus Edwards and Mark Thompson, who have all flashed signs of promise over the summer.
“Everybody in that room is a big competitor,” Dixon said. “I mean, any moment, anyone can go down. Anyone can step up. Our room is a big competition. We all friends; we just compete.”
There are still a few days before the Ravens face the Indianapolis Colts on Monday, and even more before Week 1. There’s time for Dixon to regain his team’s trust and reinsert himself in their plans. For now, though, he’s soaking it all in and wears a smile on his face.
“Just being with the team, getting these laughs, having this joy,” Dixon said. “Looking around, you see the guy you trained with right beside you. It’s great to be back. I can honestly say that.”