SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Anthony Dixon knows he made a mistake last summer. A big one. But now he wants to redeem himself, to prove to everyone that he's growing up – as a person but also as a football player.
That's the plan. In the San Francisco 49ers training camp, Dixon is learning every day, whether he's getting reps with the first team or just watching his teammates.
The 49ers drafted Dixon, a rookie out of Mississippi State, in the sixth round of the draft in the hope he can bolster their running attack as Frank Gore's backup. Coach Mike Singletary was not pleased with the team's running in short-yardage situations last season, and Glen Coffee, who spelled Gore on occasion, had just a 2.7-yard average on 83 attempts.
Singletary said hopes to convince Gore to ease up on his workload so he'll stay fresher toward the end of the season. That means the backup, whether it's Dixon and Coffee, will play an important role.
"Me and coach Singletary already talked, and he told me that he wants me to be a factor," Dixon said. "He told me to prepare like I'm the guy, and if that's the mindset he wants me to have, then that's the mindset I've got. Even though I'm not the guy, I'm going about it like I am."
If he supplants Coffee as the main backup, Dixon could turn out to be a steal. He led the SEC in rushing yards per game (126.5) but was the 10th running back picked in the draft. The likely reason for his slide was an arrest the summer before his senior season for driving under the influence. He was suspended for Mississippi State's season opener.
"When you look at a guy like Anthony, or any of these young guys," Singletary said, "it's important to me that they're not only good football players but that they continue to mature as football players. He kind of came in on a bit of a sour note with the DUI, so we needed to grab him right away and say, ‘Look, we want you to compete and be the best you can be, but help yourself by doing the right things off the field so we can continue to grow.'"
Dixon said he's working hard to dispel any notion that he has character issues.
"I can play football with the best of them, but getting my life right and growing up like a man is important too," he said. "That's what I'm trying to do, just be more mature. I've made some mistakes. I'm still not perfect, but I'm working hard. I tell coach every day that I'm working hard to be the man they want me to be."
That's what the 49ers like about Dixon. He's an enthusiastic worker and is trying to make the most of every opportunity.
"I like him a lot, although there are times I want to strangle him," offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye said. "He's young and he's learning, but it's like they say – youth is wasted on the young. He's running over the quarterback, running over the lines. He's just having fun and learning what to do."
Singletary said Dixon is in competition with Coffee for the No. 2 spot behind Gore. Coffee added 17 pounds to his frame during the offseason and weighs 222 pounds. Dixon is listed at 233.
"Glen is a tough guy," Singletary said. "You like to be able to run him in between the tackles, but you've got to watch it sometimes because he's not as big a guy. On the other hand, Dixon is a big guy that sometimes runs like a smaller guy. He's got really good feet and good vision."
Dixon is certain to get his chance when preseason games begin later this month. And whatever the Niners want from him, he's willing to deliver.
"I feel like I'm a versatile runner," he said. "I can go through them, I can go around them. If it's fourth and one, or third and one, I can get it."