Bengals offense looking for more balance with 2-tight end sets
CINCINNATI – For some, the Cincinnati Bengals' selection of tight end Tyler Eifert with their first pick in the NFL Draft was surprising.
They already had one of the league's premier tight ends in former No.1 pick Jermaine Gresham. The former Oklahoma All-American improved his numbers steadily the previous three seasons from 52 catches as a rookie in 2010 to 64 last season in helping the Bengals advance to the playoffs.
The Bengals were looking for depth at a position that plays an increasingly significant role in their offense. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden committed to using two tight ends to bolster a sometimes-explosive passing game and an adequate ground game.
The Steelers can expect to see a lot of Gresham and Eifert on Monday night in an AFC North battle at Paul Brown Stadium. Both teams will try to rebound from season-opening defeats.
“For years, we tried to find a well-rounded tight end like we have in Jermaine,” Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said before Thursday's practice. “We felt like we got the total package when we selected him.
“When we were able to select Tyler, we were gaining a guy with incredible receiving skills who would grow into the physical part of playing tight end. He was better at that than I ever expected. The game's not too big for him. He's probably ahead of his time with the things he does naturally.”
Eifert was among the most highly rated tight ends in the draft, but no team put him through pre-draft interviews and workouts. Consequently, he was surprised when the Bengals selected him with the 21st overall pick.
“I had no idea they were leaning toward taking me,” said Eifert, who wasn't considered a strong run blocker at Notre Dame. “During the pre-draft process, I wasn't sure if it was a good thing or a bad thing that no one was interviewing me. I supposed they had seen enough during the NFL Combines.”
Despite a rather pedestrian performance in the season opener, Lewis is satisfied with how the Gresham-Eifert pairing has worked.
“(Eifert) and Jermaine have been a great complement to each other,” Lewis said. “In some ways, they have both learned from each other.”
Still, Gresham did not expect to share the spotlight with a rookie tight end.
In the season opener against the Chicago Bears, they both had five receptions and combined for only 82 receiving yards as quarterback Andy Dalton completed 26-of-33 passes for 282 yards.
The Bengals, though, were looking to improve their running game by using two tight end formations. With just 63 yards rushing at Chicago – including BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 25 yards on 14 carries — there's still room for improvement in a run game that netted only 14 yards in beating the Steelers, 13-10, in last December.
“It gives us different options and variation in the run and pass games,” Green-Ellis said. “It's something that will keep the Steelers from locking down on one side. It enables us to do a lot of things with our offense.”
The Bengals were in two tight end sets more than 70 percent of the time against Chicago, according to Eifert.
“It's not a big change from where we've been, but for some reason it's been the buzz this season,” Lewis said. “But I don't need to respond to what a rookie says, anyway. He just should be quiet and listen.”
Eifert insists he's still listening and learning. The Steelers must find a way to minimize the two tight end sets as Chicago did in last Sunday's 24-21 victory.
Eifert said the Bengals still believe they can run the ball against the Steelers, particularly with the loss of veteran linebacker Larry Foote to a biceps injury.
“Having us both allows us to do different things with formations and gives defense different things to game plan for,” Eifert said. “If you bring in an extra tackle at tight end, there's no threat to run the ball because the defense can stack the deck.
“With two tight ends you can run or pass, and it puts the defense in a bind. Now, you have to pick your poison when you game plan us.”
Ralph N. Paulk is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @RalphPaulk_Trib.
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