Ninety-seven minutes into his first padded practice in more than 10 months on Monday, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert got taken to the ground by safety George Iloka.
Two plays later, Eifert was on the ground again, this time in the end zone after beating safety Shawn Williams and lunging for a touchdown pass from quarterback Matt Barkley.
Eifert said he felt something on the second one:
“It felt good,” he said of the touchdown.
Eifert said the same thing about putting on the pads again, and about running routes, and processing play calls in the huddle, and even about getting the chance to show off his pride-and-joy mullet.
“It hangs out the helmet nice now,” Eifert said. “It’s come a long way, through a lot of adversity. A lot of people don’t like it at first. You’ve got the awkward stage and a lot of different stuff, but I persevered and it’s looking good now.”
Eifert clearly was enjoying himself after passing his physical and receiving clearance to return to practice after he spent the first four days of camp on the Physically Unable to Perform list following offseason back surgery and limited participation in OTAs and a full absence from mandatory minicamp.
It was his first competitive action since injuring his back in the Week 2 loss to Houston last year, leading to the team placing him on season-ending Injured Reserve.
Thursday he participated in all activities except a brief live tackling drill on the goal-line, the first of training camp.
“It felt good to be back in pads and put the helmet on and just be out there with the guys running around,” Eifert said. “It’s fun. It’s been a while, so it’s good. I mean I could’ve been cleared a couple months ago, but to actually officially be cleared felt good.”
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It looked good, too, quarterback Andy Dalton said.
“I love having him out here,” Dalton said. “It’s good to see him back running and playing football again. I know he’s been anxious to do that for a while. I thought it was a good start. We’ll keep finding things to do with him and hopefully get him ready for the season.”
Eifert’s reps were limited and mostly came with the second team, but he said there are no limitations on what he’s able to do physically.
“I think they’re going to protect me for an extent, but when I am in there, it’s not like I’m going to wear a red jersey or something,” Eifert said. “When I’m in there, it will be full speed reps.”
While he said he had no issues physically with going full speed, it was a bit of a challenge mentally.
“I’ve got to get in there and start getting the reps and start seeing the coverages again,” he said. “You’ve got to process things faster. Everything on paper is easy, and when you talk about it in meeting rooms. But when you get out there, obviously it’s a different speed. I’ve just got to get acclimated back to that and I’ll be good.”
Eifert, who has appeared in just 10 of 32 games the last two seasons and 39 of 80 in his five-year career, said he understands why his health, and injury, statuses generate as much buzz as they do with fans.
“I know my history and what’s happened, so I could understand how it would be frustrating as fans and all that, hearing ‘Oh, he’s on PUP list again’ or whatever,” Eifert said. “But trust me, it’s 100 times more frustrating for me because all I want to do is be out there, and I’m doing literally everything I can, spending all my time trying to get back out there and stay out there with the guys.”
Here are some other observations from Day 5 of Bengals camp:
The biggest hit of camp thus far came in the live-tackling drill in the red zone, when defensive tackle Andrew Billings walloped Giovani Bernard, but the offense the majority of the battles, including the first play where Joe Mixon scored easily. … Matt Barkley appears to have taken the lead in the backup quarterback battle as he took almost every second-team rep in 11s after rotating with Jeff Driskel the first four days. … Dalton showed some touch and accuracy when he saw Barkley sprinting to the other end of the field for the next session and lofted a perfect pass that landed right on the unsuspecting backup’s helmet. … Alex Erickson continues to catch everything thrown his way, snagging three red-zoe touchdowns including back-to-back ones on the final two plays of the practice. … John Ross and Auden Tate each had drops in the end zone, while tight end Mason Schreck made an impressive one-handed touchdown grab. … Rookie defensive lineman Andrew Brown made a play in a 2-on-3 pass rushing drill that had Geno Atkins and Michael Johnson — and Brown himself — going wild. … First-round center Billy Price had another fumbled exchange with Dalton under center and two off-target, but not play-killing, high snaps. … Kickers Jonathan Brown and Randy Bullock each went 4 for 4 on field goals from 45, 53, 50 and 53 yards. … A crowd of 850 showed up for the practice. The Bengals will enjoy their first off day of camp Tuesday before returning to practice from 3-5 p.m. Wednesday.