CINCINNATI — Tyler Eifert lined up here, there and just about everywhere during his first practice with the Cincinnati Bengals. Felt like old times.
The Bengals got started on their new tight end-heavy passing game Friday at the start of a weekend rookie minicamp. A lot of the focus was on Eifert, chosen in the first round to give quarterback Andy Dalton another target.
Eifert lined up in a lot of different spots at Notre Dame. Judging by the first day of practice in Cincinnati, he's going to be doing the same thing in the NFL.
“A lot of the things I'm learning are a lot of the same plays we had in with two tight ends — move me around in different positions,” Eifert said. “Today I was out in the slot quite a bit. I think I'm picking it up pretty fast.”
With Dalton watching from the sideline, Eifert made a nice one-hand catch during the morning workout, a preview of what he can bring to an offense that's been overly dependent upon receiver A.J. Green.
The Bengals haven't added another proven receiver in the offseason. Rather, they took Eifert with the 21st overall pick, figuring his ability to catch the ball in a crowd — he set a Notre Dame recover for catches by a tight end — will give them some versatility and force defenses to worry about someone other than Green.
Eifert lined up as a tight end on either side and as a slot receiver during practice. The biggest challenge was learning the Bengals' language for each play and pass protections.
“I think I picked it up better than I thought I would at first,” Eifert said. “It's not a whole lot, but it's definitely something new for me. I'm catching on pretty quickly and moving around quite a bit.”
The Bengals would like to use him along with tight end Jermaine Gresham, their first overall pick in 2010. The New England Patriots have shown that a two-tight end approach can keep defenses off balance, provided that both can catch the ball.
New England's Tom Brady set career highs in yards passing and touchdowns in 2011, using his tight ends generously. Defenses had trouble handling both Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez in the two-tight end approach.
Gronkowski had 90 catches for 1,327 yards that season. Hernandez had 79 for 910.
“You look at that year, and a lot of people don't realize that Tom had his best statistical season ever in history,” said running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who was with New England then. “We threw the ball numerous times. We ran the ball three to five times a game.
“Of course, that's not what you want to do when you're a running back. But we were winning games. It was a shock to the league that year. It can actually be a great thing when you have two guys who can catch the ball. It takes a lot of pressure off what you can do because you had to prepare for all those guys.”
Dalton thinks that having two tight ends who can catch the ball will make defenses vulnerable somewhere. Dalton wasn't allowed to work out with the rookies during minicamp. He left the field as the morning workout was wrapping up.
“You get the matchup of the tight ends on the linebackers and safeties,” Dalton said recently. “So I think he's going to be a great addition. He's going to make Jermaine a better player. I'm excited to get him in here and get working with him.”