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Tyler Eifert injury update, recovery timetable and who steps up

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No Tyler Eifert means it's time for Tyler Kroft to step up.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals were hit with a bombshell Tuesday when word came out that Tyler Eifert's ankle injury from the Pro Bowl would require surgery.

Eifert, now entering his fourth NFL season, is undergoing a procedure on Wednesday that includes a recovery timetable of three months, putting his status for the start of next season in doubt, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network also added that the surgery is regarding a loose ligament on his ankle.

Live on ESPN this afternoon, it was reported that Eifert could miss anywhere between two and four games to start the season, depending on his prognosis after he gets out of surgery today.

This is a major blow for the team as Eifert is essentially the No. 2 option in the passing game and a big reason why the Bengals had so much offensive success last year when Andy Dalton was healthy. Eifert finished his third NFL season as the tight end with the most touchdowns (13), which was a team record for touchdowns by a tight end.. Eifert also finished with 52 receptions for 615 yards as he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Sadly, that's where the injury occurred, and it looks like it will be enough to keep him out for the remainder of the spring and summer. This is the second-straight offseason that Eifert will spend recovering from a surgical procedure as a result of an injury suffered the previous season.

Who Steps Up?

A dislocated elbow in 2014 forced him to miss all but one quarter of the season and much of the 2015 offseason. The one guy who stepped up in his absence was Jermaine Gresham in 2014, but he's since moved on to Arizona.

That sparked the Bengals to spend a third-round draft pick on Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft in the 2015 NFL Draft. The problem at the time of this pick was that most viewed Kroft as a Day 3 pick, not someone who should be going early on Day 2.

While the draft experts didn't think as highly of Kroft, not only did the Bengals fall in love with him, but Marvin Lewis called him "the best of the TE prospects" in the 2015 Draft.

That move looks very smart now as Kroft had a promising rookie season in limited snaps as a pass-catcher. He was more often used as a blocking tight end.

But in Weeks 14-16 with Eifert out due to a concussion, Kroft caught nine of 12 targets for 108 yards and 1 touchdown. That equates to about 48 catches for 576 yards and five scores over a 16-game season. While he's no Eifert, that kind of production is good enough to get by those first few games, depending on how long Eifert is out.

And with Eifert not practicing for the next three months, Kroft is going to be getting a lot of first-team reps with Dalton in the passing game, something he rarely got last year. Again, Kroft was a blocking tight end when Dalton was healthy, and once Kroft became a legitimate passing option, Dalton was hurt and AJ McCarron had to step up. In other words, we should expect to see Kroft do good things now that he and Dalton are going to build some great chemistry in training camp and likely the entire preseason.

Young players getting a chance

We also should not be surprised to see the Bengals give more reps and chances to guys like C.J. Uzomah, John Peters and Matt Lengel in OTAs, training camp and the preseason to see if they're able to impress.

It can also be expected that h-back Ryan Hewitt will receive a lot more snaps at tight end and simply as a guy running more routes out of the backfield rather than running into defenders to make blocks. Hewitt has been a reliable pass-catcher when needed, but that's been a rarity with Eifert, A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Giovani Bernard catching so many passes.

In two years, Hewitt has caught 18 of 26 targets for 185. It's not crazy to think he may actually battle Kroft for the No. 1 tight end spot when Eifert is out. Whatever happens, the Bengals have enough options at tight end to help get through a few games without Eifert, but to reach their ultimate goal, Eifert needs to be healthy and on the field for the regular-season stretch and into the postseason.

If Eifert were to miss some early games, Weeks 1-4 include the Jets in Week 1, the Steelers in Week 2, the Broncos in Week 3 and the Dolphins in Week 4. That's no easy stretch to miss the No. 2 receiving option on the team and a red zone threat, especially after the No. 2 and No. 3 wide receivers from 2015 walked in free agency. The tight end battle in training camp just got a whole lot more interesting.