While this should not come as a great surprise to anybody, when the Cincinnati Bengals open up their regular season schedule tomorrow against the Jets, they will be doing so without their Pro Bowl tight end, Tyler Eifert, who underwent offseason ankle surgery late in the process and still not fully recovered.
Of course, the Pittsburgh Steelers just so happen to be dealing with a tight end ankle injury of their own, with free agent acquisition Ladarius Green currently shelves for at least the first six games, since he was played on the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list to start the regular season after missing all of the offseason.
Eifert has had his fair share of injuries entering his fourth season. While he did manage to play in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013, he was limited to just one game in 2014 due to a number of injuries.
Even last season, during his Pro Bowl campaign, he missed three full games and parts of others, but he still scored 13 touchdowns, the second-most in the league, while also catching 52 total passes for 615 yards. He was third on the team in receptions and receiving yards in spite of the time missed.
Needless to say, with the offense taking on a more and more important role for the Bengals, and combining that with the fact that they lost two of their top three wide receivers in free agency, it will be no simple matter to replicate what Eifert has brought to the offense.
Second-year former Rutgers product Tyler Kroft has been dealing with injuries through the training camp and preseason process as well, but he was a full go throughout the week of practice and is fully expected to play. While he can certainly do many of the things that Eifert is responsible for, he can’t match the Pro Bowler’s receiving threat.
It is unclear how much more time Eifert may have to miss before he is able to return, which is unfortunate really for the game itself, as he is one of the premiere young players at his position—though the supporters of the division rivals of the Bengals are certainly not likely to shed any tears for his absence.
One player who will be back for Cincinnati is a pretty important component, that being quarterback Andy Dalton, who was forced to miss the last several games of the regular season, and then the team’s postseason contest against the Steelers, after he attempted to make a tackle following an interception in the Bengals’ second game against Pittsburgh during the year.
Dalton will likely have to rely heavily on A.J. Green initially, who is one of the few familiar faces with which he is fully comfortable and with whom he has a great rapport, after the two came into the league together in the second and first rounds, respectively, in 2011. Green will be shadowed by Darrelle Revis throughout the game, however.