The Bengals open their 2013 training camp today at Paul Brown Stadium. The team has made the playoffs each of the last two seasons but each time it has been a short-lived trip to Houston for a disappointing end in an AFC wild card game.
The roster is in a solid state and there is no reason to think this team can’t again make another push for the postseason but the expectations are for more than another first-round appearance.
Fox Sports Ohio has been taking a look at some position battles and areas of interest for the Bengals leading up to training camp with an eye on how things could play out and what it means for the season to come.
Today: Tight end
There’s one thing Jay Gruden, the Bengals’ offensive coordinator, doesn’t like about Tyler Eifert.
“He’s a scratch golfer, I heard,” said Gruden. “That pisses me off.”
Gruden will just have to get over that part of Eifert, the tight end from Notre Dame the Bengals drafted with the 21st overall pick in first round this past April to help bring greater versatility to an offense that far too often bogged down the final weeks of last season. At 6-feet-6, 250 pounds, Eifert has the size and the athletic ability to create mismatches across the field.
Combining those talents with Jermaine Gresham’s should make Gruden’s and quarterback Andy Dalton’s Sundays much more enjoyable.
“He’s done everything we thought and more,” said Gruden of Eifert. “He’s just one of those guys that when he makes a play you kind of look around and see if anybody else saw what he just did. He’s running routes and catching the ball, he’s very natural at what he does. He can beat man coverage no problem. He can beat zones, he’s got a great feel for the game. Great catch radius. And we’ll see when the pads get on how he does blocking some of these guys in the run game.
“In order to be very successful with this two-tight end offense you got to be able to run the ball some. Hopefully we’ll be able to do that and he’ll prove that he can do that.”
Gresham has 172 catches for 1,804 yards and 15 touchdowns in three seasons since the Bengals drafted him No. 21 overall in 2010. He has been selected to two Pro Bowls and is already fifth on the franchise’s all-time list for receptions by a tight end behind Rodney Holman, Tony McGee, Bob Trumpy and Dan Ross.
He’s just scratching the surface of what he can do. It’s no secret that against Houston in the playoffs the Bengals wanted to feature Gresham against a banged up Houston linebacking corps while its defense focused most of its attention on wide receiver A.J. Green. The planning wasn’t the problem; execution was.
Adding Eifert to the mix with Gresham gives the Bengals two tight ends capable of splitting out away from the line of scrimmage. Teams are still going to double cover Green the vast majority of the time. They can’t double everyone so it will be up to Dalton deliver the ball to his best option. He’s just got more options this season.
Offenses have been running two-tight end sets for as long as the position has been around but it’s only been in the past few seasons that they’ve been utilizing them as downfield passing threats to the extent the Bengals have the opportunity to this season. Finding one tight end with the skill sets of Gresham and Eifert is tough enough. Two is more difficult.
New England has been the most productive with the offense, using Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez with great success. The Patriots are expected to be without Gronkowski for at least part of the season due to recent back surgery. Hernandez is no longer with the team as he faces much publicized murder charges in Massachusetts.
Eifert caught more passes (140) than any other tight end in Notre Dame history and won the John Mackey Award last season as the nation’s top collegiate tight end.
All of that looks good on paper. Drafting Eifert in April enabled Gruden to start scheming of ways to utilize him in the passing and run game. Now Eifert will get to put pads on and start showing if those schemes can work.
There isn’t much doubt in Gruden’s mind.
“He’s a competitor,” said Gruden. “I just learned there’s really nothing that he can’t do. He’s smart and he can block and can line up all the routes. He can line up outside in the slot and at tight end and I think he’s going to be a major, major player around here for a lot of years.”