Tyler Eifert declared himself 100 percent healthy Tuesday afternoon as the Cincinnati Bengals began their first of three Organized Team Activity sessions at Paul Brown Stadium.
Eifert didn’t take part in any 11-on-11 drills, but he was running routes and catching passes in one-on-one and seven-on-seven activities in his first significant action since suffering a season-ending dislocated elbow in last year’s season opener at Baltimore.
“I was just happy to be out there running around in uniform with a helmet on and going through most of the drills,” Eifert said. “I’m in no rush. Everything is healthy, but we’re just taking it slow to begin with. I’ll be out there (for 11-on-11s) soon enough.”
The team will work out today and Thursday to conclude the first session. The second session will be June 2-4, followed by the final one June 9-11. The mandatory minicamp will be June 16-18 and then the players will scatter across the country for a five-week break before the start of training camp.
Tuesday’s action was significant for Eifert because it was the first OTA practice in 2014 when he tore his labrum when he dove for a pass and safety George Iloka landed on him.
Eifert elected to not have surgery and play through the pain, but after he suffered the elbow injury in the opener, he had surgery on both his shoulder and elbow.
The elbow was medically cleared a few weeks ago, but Eifert did not receive clearance on the shoulder until visiting Dr. James Andrews last week.
“My shoulder and elbow are cleared and 100 percent,” he said. “I’m trying to avoid contact and not diving for any balls like I did last year in OTAs, which is what got me hurt. We’ll get there. I’m just taking it one step at a time.”
Eifert’s loss was a huge blow to the scheme Hue Jackson had put together in his first season as Bengals offensive coordinator. Even though Eifert played only eight snaps, it was obvious he was going to be a big part of the offense as he caught three passes for 34 yards on the team’s opening drive of the season.
“We got him matched up on some good stuff,” Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton said. “He had a good start to the game. We’d obviously have loved to have seen more, but that’s what you try to do. Just how big he is and the way he runs and how fluid he is in his routes, that’s big for us.”
Despite being only 24 years old and a veteran of 16 NFL games in his first two seasons in the league, with Jermaine Gresham and Alex Smith gone, Eifert is the elder statesmen in a tight end group that includes rookie draft picks Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah and undrafted rookies John Peters and Matt Lengel.
“I used to be asking Jermaine questions, and know I’m in my third year and we’ve got young guys and now they’re going to be asking me questions,” Eifert said. “So it’s kind of crazy how things change that quickly.”
Last year’s OTAs also showed how quickly things can change, and Eifert said he has learned to obey head coach Marvin Lewis’ mantra of “stay on your feet.”
Eifert said even if there is a ball he thinks he can get to, there won’t be any diving this offseason.
“It’s your instinct, but it’s just not worth it in practice,” he said. “I mean we’re out there going 100 percent, but we practice smart. Coach always says we’ve got to get to the starting gate healthy but also get our work in at the same time. We’re just being smart about it.”