Tyler Eifert understands the rehab process well enough by now, he hasn’t been surprised by how cautious the Cincinnati Bengals have been with him this preseason.
One snap last week in his first game action since last September might have been a little underwhelming, but Eifert said he continues preparing as though he’s going to play a full game.
The Bengals have intentionally brought him along slowly this preseason as he continues his return from the ankle injury that occurred in a Week 4 game at Atlanta last year. The seventh-year tight end came in for one play, a short pass from Andy Dalton that fell incomplete, in the first quarter of the Bengals' 23-13 win at Washington last week but likely will see at least slightly increased playing time Thursday at home against the New York Giants.
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“I knew I was going to play a little bit, but I wasn’t sure how much,” Eifert said. “I’m not sure what the plan is moving forward. I just try to prepare during the week. This is as similar as it’s going to be to a real game week. We’ve got the full time in between games, the full week, so I’m just trying to mentally prepare for what it’s going to be like during the season.”
Eifert, who is back on a one-year contract this year, was cleared to practice before Organized Team Activities but was still limited to individual work throughout the offseason workout program. He began training camp as a full participant but head coach Zac Taylor said from the beginning the plan would be to limit him in the preseason to make sure he’s available for the start of the season.
That meant sitting out entirely the first preseason game and trotting him out for just one play last Thursday.
“No. 1, it’s, ‘Let’s make sure Tyler is ready to play against Seattle (in the opener)’,” Taylor said. “We know what he can do on tape. The live reps he’s gotten so far just running are really good for me to see. This dude can play some ball. Just keep him healthy. … We are mindful to take care of him and ease him in there. We have a good tight end group, and we need to evaluate some of these younger guys as well.”
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Eifert declares himself fully healthy and back to his “old self,” capable of contributing, but he has just enjoyed being out on the field with his team again after missing the last three months of the 2018 season.
“It felt great,” he said. “I’ve said it before just being out with the guys again, it’s been a long time for me so being out there and feeling healthy, strong and fast and feeling like myself is exciting.”
So far this preseason, it’s been difficult to picture exactly how the Bengals’ offense might look this season when Eifert, A.J. Green and John Ross potentially are back on the field together. Green is expected to miss at least two regular-season games, and Ross continues to work out on the rehab field as he has been nursing a tight hamstring.
Eifert said he has a good grasp of the offense, despite his limited reps going into training camp, and feels comfortable enough to step in when called upon.
“Anytime you have a new offense, at first your head is kind of spinning, and you’re doing your best to memorize everything, but then, we’ve had quite a few practices now so you’re not thinking anymore, you just hear the play and go,” he said. “You get so many reps, so I’ve got a good grasp of it now.”
Eifert hasn’t played more than eight games since 2015, but he insists injuries aren’t a thought when he takes the field. “You’re probably more likely to get hurt,” if you think about it, he said.
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Most of his injuries couldn’t have been prevented, but Eifert said he does pay extra attention to how he cares for his body.
“Going into my seventh year, so I’m getting older and you do have to spend more time on your body, doing the extra things to get yourself feeling good so you can go out and perform at a high level, but there is nothing you can do to prevent the big stuff,” he said.
The team will continue to treat him with caution, but Eifert said he doesn’t feel overly protected because of his injury history.
“That’s just part of the rehab process in a way,” Eifert said. “I haven’t done football stuff in a long time and then throwing you out there to take every single rep, that’s just not smart so I think it’s just a way of getting into the flow and then it will be normal from there.”
Giants at Bengals, 7 p.m., Ch. 12, 22; 700, 1530, 102.7