Tyler Eifert has heard it all before. It's been three years of being known more for splints rather than snaps and after signing his second straight one-year deal with the Bengals Monday he's looking to change all that.
"I've got all the confidence in the world right now. It does irritate me hearing it," Eifert admitted. "I know what kind of player I am and I know what I expect from myself. So I plan on coming out this year with some fire."
Eifert, who has played just 14 games since injuring his ankle in the Pro Bowl after the 2015 season, could have taken his matches elsewhere. He says he heard from other teams, but they had a big obstacle in the Bengals.
"Cincinnati is home. It's where I'm comfortable and where I know these guys," Eifert said. "I want to have it go right."
He's only spoken on the phone briefly with new head coach Zac Taylor and doesn't know what all he has planned for him yet. But he knows guys like his quarterback, Andy Dalton, and Dalton's favorite target, A.J. Green, whose favorite receiver just may be Eifert because of how he takes the crazy coverages away.
If anyone had asked him, Green would have resoundingly called for the Bengals to re-sign Eifert no matter his injury history. Since 2015, Green has scored 15 TDs in the 27 games he and Eifert have played together.
The last one came after Eifert had been carted off the field in Atlanta nearly six months ago. He had already been diagnosed with a season-ending dislocated ankle when Green caught the winner from Dalton in the last 10 seconds, but it's that kind of connection to his mates that helped convince Eifert he wanted to be back.
There's not only what Green does with him, but what he has done with Dalton down through the years. You can absolutely count Eifert as a Dalton guy. He's one of the reasons he came back.
"Andy's a great player, a great teammate. Probably catches a lot of flak he doesn't deserve," Eifert said. "I think we've got a good connection and good chemistry. Any time you're with someone new it's going take time. It could be a long time, maybe it's a short time. It's nice having a quarterback you trust and a quarterback that trusts you as well."
Dalton has had a nice run with Eifert, too. As in 15-10-1 in the games they've played together since 2015. Eifert advises Dalton's critics to take a longer look.
"He's the quarterback. They make the big bucks, they take the heat," Eifert said. "But if you look at the situations, the injuries, how much time he's had to throw in some seasons … if you look at the big picture, he's doing everything he can. When he gets time and we're all on the same page, he's one of the best there is in the league."
Dalton says the same thing about Eifert. He knows why Green is getting open when Eifert is out there. It really hit home after he got hurt, when defenders were able to double team the Bengals' two wide receivers. Even then, Green and Tyler Boyd were both headed to 1,000-yard seasons before Green joined Eifert on injured reserve.
"He just balances things out. When he's not in there, teams are able to double A.J. more. He makes teams account for him," Dalton said. "You double A.J. and leave him one-on-one and that's the matchup we like. This year we had two guys getting doubled. With A.J. the safeties were leaning to his side with two-man technique on him. And two guys on Tyler Boyd.
"If they want to do that, they're still going to have one-on-one with the tight end and that's where Tyler is a big asset."
Dalton also welcomes the return of tight end C.J. Uzomah in a three-year deal. He's more of a traditional tight end than the receiving Eifert, but Dalton says those double tight end sets put stress on defenses. He thinks back to last season when Uzomah was the only experienced tight end standing after a year the position suffered five season-ending injuries.
"We went from having an awesome three tight end package to almost a half with C.J. fighting through his shoulder (injury)," Dalton said. "Now that we have C.J. and Tyler in this group, if you can leave that matchup with two tight ends on the field and like we did last year (at times) with three tight ends, its matchups. Now you're playing base defenses and we'll take tight ends and linebackers all day."
Taylor is coming from a Rams' scheme that ran mostly a three wide receiver set with one running back and one tight end. Now with Eifert and Uzomah in the fold, that gives the Bengals more flexibility. Now there are times they can use two tight ends with Eifert and Uzomah, say, but Eifert can also line up as that third receiver more often than most tight ends in the league.
New offensive coordinator Brian Callahan saw that up close last season out in Oakland, where Raiders tight end Jared Cook had the same kind of receiverish qualities.
"(Eifert) runs great receiver routes, but I think he can do more than that," Callahan said. "He's a good blocker and it's not the case that when he's on the field it means a pass. There's a place for two tight ends. Certainly he's got the kind of receiving ability that forces them to play nickel (pass defenses). He can do those kind of things that Jared did for us in those mismatches with linebackers and safeties."
With Eifert missing 34 of the last 48 games because of ankle and back injuries, the Bengals don't figure to pound him. But that was the thinking going into last year and in two of his three full games he played 42 and 49 snaps. And when the ankle snapped on his 19th play in Atlanta on the first series of the second half, he was headed to playing another game at 60 percent of the snaps.
Taylor and Callahan have to hash that all out but, believe them, they welcome it. One thing is for sure. With Eifert cleared to work in the offseason, you won't see him used much in the spring and maybe not a bunch in training camp.
"We'll be smart. We won't rush him out there," Callahan said. "We don't start playing games until September."
Eifert is thankful how well the ankle feels. There were times when walking seemed so far away and now he's running. There have been no discussions yet of a pitch count when it comes to snaps or a practice schedule. Know this. He will be available in the red zone.
"I feel great. I went through this before with the other ankle," Eifert said of the injury in the Pro Bowl. "So I've got an idea of what I have to do to get back and take care of it."
He may not play a game that counts until September, but he'll be watching a big one in college basketball Thursday night when he travels to Hartford, Conn., to watch his brother Grady play for No. 3 seed Purdue against No. 14 Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
"They've had a heck of a run so far," Eifert said. "At the beginning of the year they were supposed to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten."
It sounds like Eifert would like to be the next surprise in the family.
"He's due for a healthy season," Dalton said.
The Bengals signed Tyler Eifert to a one-year deal for the 2019 season. A look back at some of the best images of Eifert with the Bengals.