Published July 31, 2013
CINCINNATI – No question who's one of the early stars of filming for the Cincinnati Bengals' latest appearance on "Hard Knocks." When the camera crews shoot footage of people catching the ball, rookie tight end Tyler Eifert is often in the frame.
Just as planned.
The 21st overall pick out of Notre Dame was expected to add another dimension to Cincinnati's run-of-the-mill passing game, which ranked 17th in the league last season. With All-Pro receiver A.J. Green sidelined by a knee injury in camp, Eifert has been getting the ball more than many others with a lot more experience.
Cincinnati may have found someone to take the defense's focus off Green.
"He's done everything we thought and more," offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. "He's just one of those guys that when he makes a play, you kind of look around and see if anybody else saw what he just did.
"He's running routes and catching the ball. He's very natural at what he does. He can beat man coverage no problem. He can beat zones. He's got a great feel for the game."
Those who have covered him the first five days of camp have been impressed. Eifert comes up with the ball even when there's someone right on top of him.
"He's got a different skill-set than a lot of tight ends, I think, as far as the way he runs routes," cornerback Terence Newman said. "He's a big guy, but he moves kind of like he could be a big wideout. It's kind of like the 49ers, what they do with Vernon Davis. He's versatile and he can do anything they ask him to do.
"He's going to be somebody to be reckoned with this year, for sure."
That was the plan.
Green emerged into one of the NFL's best receivers during his first two seasons, but Cincinnati hasn't been able to develop a consistent complement. Green had 97 catches for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns last season. The Bengals' next-best receiver was Andrew Hawkins with only 51 catches for 533 yards and four touchdowns. No other receiver had more than 18 catches.
Eifert was a dependable receiver at Notre Dame, where he lined up in the slot and at wide receiver positions. The Bengals plan to use him more like a receiver in two tight-end formations with Jermaine Gresham.
Given his progress in camp, it looks like that will be an option from the outset.
"It's an extra piece," Hawkins said. "Every year, guys are added to the offense, whether at wide receiver, running back, tight end. There's somebody new with unique abilities that will change things up a little bit.
"He's just another piece added to the offense. Hopefully it goes well for us, and so far it has. He's done extremely well this camp and has such a great feel for the game."
The Bengals had two main questions about Eifert: How well can he block and how quickly can he pick up the offense? They'll learn more about the blocking during preseason games. For now, he's working on figuring out what's expected in the passing game.
"I'm still trying to learn the offense, make sure I know all the plays and different positions," Eifert said. "But I think it's going pretty smooth.
"I'm starting to get to the point where I don't have to think about where I'm going and what I'm doing. It comes more natural. I hope it keeps going that way."
It'll be interesting to see how defenses decide to cover the 6-foot-6, 250-pound pass catcher. Defenses will likely try different matchups, guarding him with a linebacker or smaller cornerback or safety at times.
"It creates kind of a schematic matchup and it could favor us," Newman said. "It poses different matchup questions, and nobody's really going to know how to play it until you see what he does."
NOTES: The Bengals were off Tuesday. They practice again Wednesday on their grass fields adjacent to the stadium. ... Practice on Thursday will be moved to the evening at Paul Brown Stadium, the first of two fan family promotions. The Bengals will have an extended autograph session afterward and activities for children. ... The Bengals will practice at Springboro High School on Monday, Aug. 19. The last time they practiced in the Dayton area was 2010 at the Welcome Stadium. Practice will be open to the public.