CINCINNATI (AP) — While Andy Dalton was throwing deep passes to A.J. Green and the rest of the Bengals receivers on Friday, Tyler Eifert was on a side field running sprints in shorts and a cut-off shirt.
He ran one sprint, then another. Next were some agility drills. The tight end did everything except catch one of Dalton’s spirals.
The Bengals’ most oft-injured player hopes that part comes soon.
The Bengals have gambled that Eifert can stay healthy for a full season and get the NFL’s worst offense moving again. He played only two games last season before hurting his back again, prompting another medical procedure. Eifert was a free agent after the season, and the Bengals decided to keep him with an incentive-laden, one-year deal .
Cincinnati’s offense finished last in the league in yards. A healthy Eifert could help change that.
“I can’t predict the future on that one, but I can testify to the fact that he made a difference when he was up and running for us,” director of player personnel Duke Tobin said. “We know what he can do if he can get back to that level.”
Eifert is one of Dalton’s favorite targets. He caught 13 touchdown passes in 2015, the most by a tight end in Bengals history. That was the last time the Bengals made the playoffs. A concussion, a dislocated elbow, a torn ankle ligament and two back injuries have limited him to 24 games over the last four years.
Although the Bengals have encouraging reports on Eifert’s back, they’ve decided to go slow with him at the start of camp. He hasn’t been cleared to practice even though he feels he’s ready, forcing him to work out on a side field the first two days.
“When I came back, I thought I’d go right into practice,” Eifert said. “Everyone knows all the surgeries I’ve had. We’re just being smart about it.”
The Bengals are trying to keep him healthy and get him in shape for the opener at Indianapolis on Sept. 9. He said there’s been no discussion about how much he might play in the preseason.
“I definitely need to get back out there, get some plays full-speed,” Eifert said. “It’s been a while.”
Eifert hurt his back during the second game last season, a 13-9 loss to Houston. Backups Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah combined for 52 catches and eight touchdowns during the season.
Eifert’s greatest asset is his ability to make catches in tight coverage, the main reason he became Dalton’s favorite target near the goal line. The tight end has made one change in the offseason, dropping at least 10 pounds for quickness.
“I feel a lot better,” he said. “Everyone is always saying you’re got to block and hang in there in the trenches, you’ve got to put on weight, but that’s (wrong).”
ON THE SIDE: Linebacker Vontaze Burfict also worked out on the side Friday for the second straight day. He hasn’t been cleared to practice. Burfict is suspended for the first four games of the season for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
ROSS AGAIN: Second-year receiver John Ross made his second impressive catch of camp on a long throw, drawing applause from the crowd of 1,050. Ross missed most of his rookie season with shoulder injuries.
OUCH: Tony McRae fell while trying to break up a pass, and receiver Cody Core landed on the back of the cornerback’s right leg. McRae limped to a cart and was taken off for an exam.
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