CINCINNATI — Through two weeks of the NFL season, Tyler Eifert has been one of the league’s most productive tight ends. In wins over the Raiders and Chargers, he caught 13 passes for 153 yards and three touchdowns. After missing all but eight plays of the 2014 season, with elbow and shoulder injuries, Eifert is a big reason why the Bengals are off to a 2-0 start. The MMQB caught up with the 2013 first-round pick to talk about his long road back.
VRENTAS: After missing all of last season, what expectations did you have for this season?
EIFERT: I expected to come in and contribute and do my job, try to make plays to help this offense win games and put points on the board. I don’t set goals as far as numbers or catches or anything like that, I’m just going to let all that play out and happen, but it was good to get out there and win.
VRENTAS: One thing that stands out is how you have been used all over the field, sometimes in line or in the slot or split out wide. How does that versatility help the offense work well?
EIFERT: It’s something that I work on and pride myself on, being able to give coach [Hue] Jackson the flexibility to use me in different positions by understanding the offense and the concept of the play. It gives the defense something else to worry about and plan for. You have to understand the nuances of the routes that receivers are running and the leverages of the defender, and how you want to run your route. The easiest way to remember it is when you do learn a play, you learn the play as a concept as a whole, not just one or two positions.
I didn’t want to have other people cut my steak, so I was literally eating it like a caveman, just jabbing the fork in it and picking the whole thing up and taking bites out of it.
VRENTAS: Another part of your game is your ability to both run block and catch passes. How does that help the offense catch defenses off guard when you can be used in both capacities?
EIFERT: It definitely keeps our offense balanced, especially with [Ryan] Hewitt. He’s kind of a fullback and another tight end, so he can line up in the backfield or on the line like a tight end. Being able to do that without changing personnel is good for us and just another thing the defenses have to game plan for and worry about.
VRENTAS: What was the most challenging part about coming back from the shoulder and elbow surgeries?
EIFERT: The hardest part was how slow the process goes. You have surgery and then you are starting off lifting body weight, just trying to lift your arm and bend your arm. Then you move on to two-pound weights. It’s a long, slow process, but you have to follow the instructions and follow what the trainer said. Nick [Cosgray], our athletic trainer, I spent a lot of time with him pretty much every day this offseason, slowly moving along and getting better. You want to be better right away, but you can’t skip any steps.
VRENTAS: When did you finally feel like you were back to full strength physically?
EIFERT: I’d say right before OTAs started in the spring, I was pretty close to full strength. Once you start moving weight around and pushing heavy weight again, you start to get some of your confidence back. Getting cleared by the doctors to go out there on the field and play without worrying about anything because you are full strength again.
VRENTAS: What did you learn from sitting out last season?
EIFERT: I’d say the one thing, it wasn’t really football-related or technique-oriented, and it’s kind of cliché, but just to play every down like it is your last. Sometimes you’re tired and you’d really like just to take a day off and let the body rest, but you never know when a day off might turn into a whole season. So go out there and take advantage of every opportunity you have to be on the field and to practice.
VRENTAS: A few weeks after you dislocated your elbow last fall, you tweeted about the first time you were able to cut a steak. Was it little things like that that were the most challenging part of coming back from that injury?
EIFERT: Yeah, it was. It was really annoying. I didn’t want to have other people cut my steak, so I was literally eating it like a caveman, just jabbing the fork in it and picking the whole thing up and taking bites out of it. So when you are finally able to cut the steak into pieces and eat it like a civilized and normal human being, it was nice.
VRENTAS: That must have been painful to dislocate an elbow.
EIFERT: Yeah, it didn’t feel good. Probably the worst pain I have ever felt, so happy to be recovered from that.
VRENTAS: You’re still wearing an arm brace. Other than that, are there any lingering effects from last year?
EIFERT: No, not at all. I just wear that as more of a precaution, but I don’t have to wear that. It's not necessary. Nothing else is lingering.
VRENTAS: Did you take anything from spending a year just watching Hue Jackson’s offense while you were injured?
EIFERT: I tried to stay engaged with the guys and tell them things that I saw, but just seeing it from the sideline and not being in the actual game, there are not a whole lot of things that I picked up on. It’s a lot easier to learn and pick things up when you are actually playing.
VRENTAS: You and Andy Dalton have a great comfort level. How did you work to rebuild that with him after your time away?
EIFERT: It started with OTAs and staying after practice, not for a long time, but just to run a couple extra routes and make sure that we are on the same page. And just talking about different looks, ‘If we get this look, what are you going to do?’ Communicating and making sure we are on the same page has really helped.
VRENTAS: Do you see a more confident Andy Dalton this year?
EIFERT: Definitely. He has really taken on the leadership role of the offense and the whole team. He works really hard in the offseason and comes back looking better than he did the year before throwing the football, it seems like every year. He’s made an effort to be more involved with the guys and really be a team leader. You just kind of notice that he speaks up more and hangs out with the guys more, I would say.
VRENTAS: Your college coach once said you turn field goals into touchdowns. Describe the knack that you have for scoring in the red zone.
EIFERT: I don't know, I just try to do my job and run the plays that are called the way that they’ve been coached. I think being able to go up and make a play on the ball when I might not be wide open, probably, is where that comment is coming from.
VRENTAS: You’ve certainly done that this season. Your first touchdown, in Oakland, you jumped up and made a play on the ball.
EIFERT: It was just a post [route]. I tried to widen the guy and then cross his face and then Andy just put it up there. I didn’t have a lot of separation, but Andy trusted me and the line gave him time, and he put it up there where you trust your receiver to go make a play.
VRENTAS: In Week 1, could you tell that Hue Jackson wanted to put on an offensive show against his old team in Oakland?
EIFERT: Definitely. He definitely wanted to win that game. He wants to win every game . . . but you could definitely tell that he had some extra fire in his eyes to go out there and perform well. Almost to show them, ‘Hey, this is what you are missing out on, and now look what we are doing.’ So that was good.
VRENTAS: The goal for the Bengals for the past few years has been not just to make it to the playoffs, but to win in the playoffs. Are you guys approaching that any differently this year?
EIFERT: That’s definitely something a lot of people have talked about. We’ve addressed it as, we don’t get to start in the playoffs this year, we still have to earn that right to play a playoff game. Once we do that, then we can talk about that game and winning that playoff game. Right now, our focus is getting back to the playoffs.
VRENTAS: After your breakout game in Week 1, how many people did you hear from who have you in their fantasy football leagues?
EIFERT: That was about all I heard about. But it was a good change-up from last year. After I got hurt, people were upset with me because I let them down in their fantasy leagues, so it was a big turnaround from last year’s opener. Fans and people you see [on Twitter], it’s pretty much all you hear about.
VRENTAS : Jeremy Hill has you in his fantasy league, is that right?
EIFERT: Yeah, that’s what I heard. Hopefully he started me.
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