It’s already been a long year for Tyler Eifert.
It started out on a fairly high note with Eifert playing in the 2016 Pro Bowl, his first berth in the NFL’s annual All-Star game. He more than earned it after leading all tight ends with 13 touchdowns in 2015, which was also a franchise record for the Bengals.
But Eifert would suffer an ankle injury in the Pro Bowl that eventually led to surgery, which caused him to miss the first month of the 2016 regular season. Just as it appeared Eifert was set to return, he suffered a back injury that cost him the past two games, leaving many to wonder if and when he’d return this season.
Now, it looks like Eifert could make his 2016 debut very soon. He returned to practice on Wednesday in a limited role and then was a originally reported to be a full participant on Thursday, by Geoff Hobson, but it turns out, he was still limited, according to the Bengals’ official injury report.
Eifert goes full for first time since a Pro Bowl— Geoff Hobson (@GeoffHobsonCin) October 20, 2016
But, Eifert did take his first 11-on-11 practice snaps this season, which is a positive step forward. That has Eifert feeling as confident as ever that he’ll be able to play on Sunday when the Bengals host the Browns.
“In my mind, I’m ready,” Eifert told Dayton Daily News. “I don’t think there’s anything else I would have to pass.”
Eifert added that his ankle was 100-percent healed prior to the back injury, so it sounds like he’s very close to being 100-percent healthy.
"Two weeks ago, before (the back injury) happened, I was in really, really good shape and I've kind of been laid up just trying to get the back right," Eifert told ESPN.
In 2015, Eifert emerged as one of the NFL's truly elite tight ends while helping spark Cincinnati to a 12-4 record. His 12 touchdown catches led the NFL through Week 12, but a neck stinger and concussion led to him seeing limited action in the last four games.
Eifert still finished with 13 touchdowns, which was a team record for touchdowns by a tight end (previously nine). He also finished with 52 receptions for 615 yards on just 72 targets, good for a 72-percent catch rate.
Following Thursday’s practice, Eifert admitted he was surprised how good he felt after practice.
“That’s encouraging for me, just to get my confidence back,” Eifert said. “Being able to run around out there and cut it loose and not think about my ankle, not think about my back or anything else. It was good.”
It’s still very hard to say whether Eifert plays in Week 7 or if the Bengals hold him out another week or two with the bye coming in Week 9. Regardless of what the Bengals do, it certainly sounds like Eifert is very close to returning to game action, which will be a welcomed sight for this team.
Though the Bengals are 2-4 and in desperate need of a win, Cincinnati should be able to beat Cleveland without Eifert. If they can’t, there are far worse issues that Eifert’s return cannot fix. That’s why we shouldn’t be surprised to see Eifert inactive Sunday, but it also won’t be a shock to see him active for the first time this season and playing.
If Eifert plays on Sunday, expect his role to be limited as he works his way back to the speed of a live NFL game.