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Bengals take Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert in 1st round, giving QB Andy Dalton another option

Tyler Eifert made a mental note of all the NFL teams needing a tight end. The Bengals weren't on his list.

So, it surprised him to be on a conference call to Cincinnati on Thursday night, trying to find a quiet spot in his joyous Fort Wayne, Ind., home to talk about going somewhere unexpected.

"We all do our own mock drafts in our head, who needs the position that we are and whatnot," Eifert said. "So I was a little surprised."

The Bengals didn't really need a tight end in the first round of the NFL draft. They took Jermaine Gresham in the first round in 2010, and he's made the last two Pro Bowls. Given the way the first round unfolded, they decided to take Eifert with the 21st pick — same as Gresham — to give their offense another pass-catching option.

Eifert was known for making catches in a crowd at Notre Dame. He also lined up at all the receiver spots in the Fighting Irish offense, making him a valuable option. The Bengals figure they can line him up along with Gresham and take some of the defense's focus away from Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green.

Finding someone to complement Green has been a challenge for the Bengals the past two seasons. Now quarterback Andy Dalton will have another sure-handed option, this one in the form of a 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end.

"I'm sure Andy's happy right now," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "We're trying to make sure Andy is happy. Obviously we've got to take the pressure off A.J. Green, and this is one step in doing that."

Shortly after the pick, Dalton tweeted: "Great pick."

The Bengals went into the opening round of the draft uncertain about their situation at right tackle, where Andre Smith is an unrestricted free agent. They also are trying to solidify the safety position. With a run on linemen and the top-rated safeties earlier in the round, they decided to help an offense that struggled down the stretch.

The Bengals have reached the playoffs each of the last two seasons as a wild card, losing to Houston in the first round both times. Gresham dropped a pass on Cincinnati's opening series in a 19-13 loss at Houston on Jan. 5. Dalton completed only 14 of 30 passes in that game for 127 yards with an interception.

Green has quickly developed into one of the NFL's best, but none of the other receivers has turned into a consistent threat. Gresham made the Pro Bowl after finishing second to Green with 64 catches and 737 yards. He was third on the team with five touchdowns.

The Bengals signed tight end Alex Smith from Cleveland last week, giving themselves more depth at the position. They plan to work Eifert into the offense gradually. At some point, they'd like to have him and Gresham on the field together.

"I don't think Jermaine has a lot to worry about," Gruden said. "Jermaine is our starting tight end.

"With two tight ends in the game at the same time, or three, it creates problems for the defense. He's a very fluid route runner, great in space and very good after the catch."

Gresham is a tough matchup for defenses with his size — 6-foot-5, 260 pounds — and long arms. Eifert is similar in size and is known for being able to come down with the ball in a crowd. He won the Mackey Award as the top tight end in college.

Eifert set a career receiving record for tight ends at Notre Dame, which has had some good ones. Eifert is the fourth Notre Dame tight end to get drafted in the first or second round since 2006.

He played for coach Brian Kelly, who went to South Bend after three seasons at the University of Cincinnati. He plans to get some tips from him about the city.

"Really haven't talked a lot about it, but I'm sure we will shortly," he said.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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