For the third straight day Friday, Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert didn't surface in the locker room or on the practice field and was declared of Sunday's game (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Dallas with a sore back.
But while head coach Marvin Lewis offered his obligatory "We'll see," he's hopeful Eifert can be ready for next week's game in New England for an All-World matchup with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Backup wide receiver and special teams James Wright (hamstring) also didn't practice Friday and was categorized as doubtful. That could put sixth-rounder Cody Core on the field for his NFL debut against the Cowboys.
The good news is that starting right tackle Cedric Ogbuehi, out Wednesday with an illness, went full Thursday and is probable. Although they're listed as questionable, the fact that starting left guard Clint Boling (shoulder), kick returner Rex Burkhead (hamstring), and backup right tackle Jake Fisher (back) went full Friday is a good sign they'll play.
Lewis is holding out hope for the Gronk Summit and says they don't view it as a serious injury, indicating that it is muscular in nature, and predicted Eifert would overcome the numbing series of injuries.
"We've got a bunch of guys with the same thing," Lewis said.
But since it is a sore back, Lewis is hesitant to categorize it.
"A back is what it is,' Lewis said after Friday's walk-through. "One day it can be very sore and the next day feel fine. That's the way it is. With 63 guys we've got issues with their backs all the time. It comes and goes. It's part of their skeletal makeup. We've had guys go get a treatment and have never missed a game. There are guys we were told would never play again and they're still playing … it's such a hard region to figure out."
All Lewis has to do is point to former Bengals cornerback Leon Hall and his back issues all last year and he played every game but one. And he's averaging 36 snaps per game for the Giants this season.
"It's flexibility (not pain tolerance)," Lewis said. "We just want him to be able to execute."
Eifert misses his fifth straight game in Dallas and stretching back to the 2013 Wild Card Game his rookie year after playing just three snaps when he aggravated a neck injury, that makes 24 missed games out of 39, including the postseason.
Lewis defended him Friday, recalling Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly offering assurances that Eifert would be a good pro.
"I think Tyler has, unfortunately, had a run of bad luck," Lewis said. "There's nobody as conscientious about his body. He's conscientious about being a pro. You love that part of him. It's what Coach Kelly told me right away when people questioned certain things about him coming out.
"Brian assured me they were not totally true and that he would be everything we wanted, which is what he has been. Unfortunately he's had some injuries that have kept him out of playing. He'll overcome them."