The Bengals are on the verge of getting Tyler Eifert back for game action, but Week 4 may be a little too soon.
During Tuesday's meeting with the media, Eifert admitted he's still working through some things in his rehab, and while he didn't say he would miss Thursday’s game against the Dolphins, his comments didn't exactly exude confidence that he'll suit up this week for the first time in 2016 either.
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert said he's "still working through some things." Talking about "patience" and "trusting the process."— Mike Garafolo (@MikeGarafolo) September 27, 2016
Tyler Eifert said he felt good after running routes but "still working through some things." Up to the coaches if he plays Thurs. #Bengals— Kaci Kust (@KaciKustCN2) September 27, 2016
Eifert did say that after practicing last week for the first time this season, he had no setbacks or even soreness in his surgically-repaired ankle. That's great news and shows he is getting closer to making his 2016 debut, but again, we probably should not get our hopes up on him playing Thursday.
Eifert was listed as a limited participant in Monday’s practice, though that was only an estimation of what he would have done since the Bengals didn’t actually hold a practice. Head coach Marvin Lewis also said that Eifert was "close" to returning when he spoke to the media. Eifert was listed as a limited participant in all three practices last week, which means he has yet to get a full practice in this year.
Even if he does play, Marvin Lewis has stressed that he will be on a snap count in his first game back, meaning we may only see him in a handful of plays, likely when the Bengals are in the red zone where Eifert's specialty is.
"It won't be an iffy proposition. It will be very clear to me," Marvin Lewis said regarding whether Eifert will play via Bengals.com. "I don't know when he can go and feel good about it and that's when he'll play."
Not having Eifert in the first three games has been major blow for the Bengals as he is essentially the No. 2 option in the passing game and a big reason why the Bengals had so much offensive success last year. Eifert finished his third NFL season as the NFL tight end with the most touchdowns (13), which was a franchise record for touchdowns by a tight end.
He also finished with 52 receptions for 615 yards as he earned a spot in the Pro Bowl, where he suffered the ankle injury that led to surgery and him missing the first month of this season. This summer was the second-straight offseason that Eifert spent recovering from a surgical procedure as a result of an injury suffered the previous season.
A dislocated elbow in 2014 forced him to miss all but one quarter of the season and much of the 2015 offseason. He did rebound to have a great 2015 season, and the hope is he'll do the same in 2016. The Bengals certainly need him to if they are going to get back in the playoffs.
The Bengals are already 1-2 and two games behind the Ravens for the AFC North lead, not to mention several other teams being ahead of them for a Wild Card spot. It's still very early, but the Bengals cannot afford to lose Thursday against the Dolphins if they want to get back to the postseason.
It remains unclear if Eifert will be good to go, but it is clear his return is coming soon. My guess if Eifert does not play this week, giving him 10 days to get back up to speed before the Bengals play in Dallas for Week 5.
** UPDATE: After Eifert spoke to the media this morning, ESPN’s Bob Holtzman put out a report that Eifert isn’t going to play on Thursday.
Bengals TE Tyler Eifert has hinted he may play Thursday vs Miami, but I'm told he is not expected to return this week. A team source says a week 5 return is possible. Eifert has not participated in a full practice yet and has not done any 11-on-11 work.