CINCINNATI -- Two things are abundantly apparent about Tyler Eifert: He’s really good. He really gets hurt a lot.
Eifert, when healthy, is Andy Dalton’s security blanket, his third-down guy. He's arguably as important to the offense as anyone.
But other than his rookie year in 2013, Eifert has had trouble staying on the field. He missed all but the opening game of 2014 with a dislocated elbow. He set a Bengals tight end record with 13 touchdown catches in 2015 and made the Pro Bowl, but he still missed three games. He missed the first six games and the last two games last year with a back injury. He ended up with 29 catches for 394 yards and five TDs after catching 52 balls for 615 and 13 TDs in ’15.
Eifert is healthy this year, fully recovered from Dec. 26 back surgery. He’s participated in training camp from Day 1.
“I feel really good,” Eifert said. “Training camp isn’t the best time. But I’m really having fun, being out there running around with the guys.”
The question, of course, is can Eifert stay healthy. In the NFL, you can’t play effectively while trying to avoid injury.
“It’s so hard to think about where you’re playing,” he said. “You catch a ball. You think about getting to the end zone any way possible.”
New England’s Rob Gronkowski, the NFL’s premier tight end, hasn’t played in 16 games since 2011. Is it something about playing tight end?
“I don’t know,” Eifert said. “I don’t if it’s coincidence or it’s that we’ve got to be large humans that move at a fast pace. You’re getting hit by bigger people.
“I don’t know if it has something to do with the position.”
Eifert is so effective because he is willing to go over the middle. The punishment for that is often big hits.
“You’re a bigger guy,” he said. “You’re supposed to fight for those extra yards. Like a (former Colts receiver) Marvin Harrison. He catches a ball, if he’s going to get hit he gets down. He stayed around a long time.
“We’re big guys we’ve got to fight for those extra yards.”
Eifert missed two games in December of 2015 with a concussion. Concussions are a huge topic of discussion in the NFL. Eifert is aware of the recent New York Times report that 110 of 111 brains of NFL players studied showed chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or CTE.
“It comes with the territory,” he said. “We all know the risks of this game. It’s a violent game... Hopefully, they can keep researching and coming up with ways to make it safe. For me, personally, it’s not something I think about. Maybe I should.”
Eifert does everything he can to stay healthy. He gave up golf this offseason because of his back.
“I’ve got the itch to go back out there,” he said. “That’ll have to wait another year.”
He even limited his participation in playing cornhole. That cost him in his family's Fourth of July tournament.
“I’ve won it four times,” he said. “It’s a draw. You don’t get to pick your partner. Everyone on the lake is welcome, so it’s completely random. This year, I was rusty. I hadn’t played. I got knocked out in the first round.”
He wouldn’t blame his back.
“I didn’t make excuses,” he said. “I just didn’t play well.”
On a more serious note, Eifert spends time maintaining his body.
“I put extra time in the weight room every day,” he said. “I do that during the season as well. I have to work to maintain at 255.”
Eifert’s a free agent after the season. That’s more incentive to stay healthy.
“He knows that,” team President Mike Brown said. “We know that. We take as much into account as we can.”
But, again, Eifert can’t think about a contract or avoiding injuries.
“I can’t think about that,” he said. “It’s kind of the way I live my life. There are things you can’t control. I’ve gone through the surgeries and all that stuff. You just keep moving on, control the things you can control, go out there and put our team in the best position to win. You can’t worry about the things you can’t control -- and for me to make plays to help us win.