Amid the hyped atmosphere of training camp, the Cincinnati Bengals have a problem. When the regular season starts, Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert will be in recovery mode. Eifert injured his ankle during the Hawaii game. Incidents like that make the Pro Bowl seem like an unnecessary anomaly. If star players end up needing surgery, the game may come to an end soon. In spite of that, the Bengals are without the speedy Eifert.
One of the incredible stories of 2016 was Andy Dalton to Eifert. When a chunk of yards was needed, the whole world knew Dalton was looking for his athletic tight end. Even so, the problem was being able to stop the connection. Eifert was — and still is — a matchup nightmare for slower linebackers.
Eifert’s production wasn’t a surprise, but it seemed like he exploded onto the scene. After returning from injuries suffered in 2014, Eifert was able to light up the scoreboard. Per ESPN stats, he snagged 13 TDs and hauled in 52 passes. Anyone paying close attention to the Bengals offense will see the connection. The tight end position weighs heavily in the scheme.
In 2016, Eifert was targeted 72 times. In 2013, his only other full season, he was targeted 59 times and caught 39 passes. Two things can be said: Either Dalton is dialed in with Eifert or the passes are high percentage connections. Ultimately, the situation is obvious. Who replaces the Man of Steel while he recoups?
“For a guy to be as big as he is, to run the routes the way he does, go up and make plays, he is a special talent,” Dalton explained, via USA Today.
“It’s been good for those other tight ends to get in there for camp and get the experience of being out there.”
Replacing Eifert’s red zone production will be the biggest key. He was able to edge out the Patriots’ Rob Gronkowski for touchdown honors. Finishing ahead of Gronk is no small deal. Eifert’s finished the year with two more scores on fewer catches.
Outside of the usual list of suspects, the Bengals have very few choices at the position. Tyler Kroft showed up and showed out in Week 16. Against the Denver Broncos, Kroft pulled in four catches for 46 yards. Ryan Hewitt and C.J. Uzomah will have to take the torch and stand strong. They both showed flashes of stability but nothing to really ignite an extended conversation.
Lingering under the radar may be Eifert’s fill-in candidates.
John Peters is a six-foot-eight, 261-pound behemoth who happens to be the first Mount St. Joseph (NCAA Division III) player to sign an NFL contract. As an undrafted free agent, Peters was invited to work out with the Bengals in 2015. The results: He impressed the coaches enough to get a contract. However, to really get a firm hold on making the team, Peters will have to absorb the playbook and beat out Uzomah.
Peters played mostly wideout in college. His size was a factor in most teams looking at him as a tight end. His height and girth make him a natural. But, he’ll have to continue to shine. Another huge plus in his favor: He also played quarterback.
Matt Lengel will also need to brush past Uzomah to make the final cut. He spent last season on the Bengals practice squad. Bengals brass also signed him as an undrafted free agent out of EKU. The bulk of his responsibility was to become a brutish pass and run blocker. The Bengals never gave him many reps during the preseason or training camp. At this point, his skills are still somewhat of a mystery.
With the unexpected injury to Eifert, the Bengals may keep both of them on the roster. At this point, all the tight ends will have to bring a little more to the table.
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