Bengals TE Eifert on the mend, hopeful for season ahead as he targets training camp return

Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) celbrebs his touchdown with quarterback Andy Dalton (14) during the second half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Sunday, Nov. 27, 2016. (AP Photo/Gail Burton)

CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert spent last offseason rehabbing from ankle surgery that caused him to miss the first six games, and while he's coming off back surgery this offseason he is targeting training camp for his return.

Eifert and his teammates were on hand in the locker room on Monday after the first day of Bengals voluntary off-season workouts.

The back problem caused him to miss the final two games last season and eventually led to him having surgery in late December, but on Monday he said he, "my back feels great."

"I started running a couple of weeks ago," said Eifert, who caught 29 passes for 394 yards and five touchdowns in the eight games he played last season. "I’m still doing my rehab and my core stuff; just started doing some change of direction stuff, so I’m just taking it one step at a time. I’m still working, still getting better; just want to get 100 percent as soon as I can so I can be ready to go for the season. Just getting the strength back in my legs."

Eifert has had an injury-plagued career since the Bengals selected him in the first round of the 2013 draft. He played in 15 games as rookie, missing on the regular-season finale due to a stinger. He has played in just 22 games in the last three seasons combined.

He suffered a dislocated elbow in the 2014 regular-season opener and eventually had shoulder surgery that caused him to miss the entire rest of the season.

In 2015 he played in 13 games and was highly productive with 52 catches for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns, which led to him earning a spot in the Pro Bowl. He did miss one game with a stinger and two more due to a concussion, but returned to catch five passes for 58 yards int he playoff loss to Pittsburgh.

It was in the Pro Bowl, however, that he suffered the ankle injury caused him to miss most of last year's offseason and the first six games of the regular season.

He said simply having an offseason to prepare his body rather than rehabbing from surgery should be extremely beneficial.

"It will be great," he said. "I had my elbow and shoulder (surgeries during the 2014 season) and I was actually almost healthy by the time the offseason came around and was explosive going into my third year (2015), which was one of my best years. To be able to have the offseason to get healthy, strong, fast and all of that will be good."

It's possible that Eifert will return prior to training camp to participate in later OTA sessions or even mandatory mini-camp in June, but the start of training camp in late July seems to be a good target for him.

"If I’m healthy and I can do it, I’ll do it, but it doesn’t count for anything," Eifert said of returning early. "You’re here with the guys and you’re getting better, but there’s no reason to do something if you’re not all the way healthy.

"My back feels like it is (fine), but I’ve still lost a lot of strength with the nerve issues and all of that stuff; just working through some of that. Once I get my strength back I’ll be fine."

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