Tyler Eifert is up to jogging 20 minutes at a time now and he's convinced he'll be that guy again. The guy that caught 13 touchdowns at tight end for the Bengals in 2015.
"I'll be back to where I was. No question," said Eifert Tuesday, who admitted he didn't know where he would be doing it.
There are so many things on the mind, no one can blame him when the subject of head coach Marvin Lewis' departure comes up and he says, "It's beyond my thought process." Certainly the next head coach, especially if he's an offensive whiz, would be intrigued by Eifert. Eifert, the 6-6 red-zone TD machine that has played in just 12 of the 48 games since he tore ankle ligaments in the '15 Pro Bowl. Since then, his career has been a Mayhem commercial instead of a highlight reel.
Staring at a second straight free-agent year that starts in two months, Eifert isn't so sure where he fits after he signed what amounted to an incentive-laden $4.75 million deal for one year that ended up not being laden. Now if you're the Bengals, what do you do?
"Just have to see how it plays out. I don't know where I stand," he said. "I don't have any expectations right now. I don't know if I'm still wanted. Just have to figure that out."
Old coach? Young pup? Millennial? Hall-of-Famer? Who wouldn't want the guy? Remember, the day Eifert got carried off in Atlanta on the first series of the second half as his teammates huddled and prayed over him in the wake of a sickening turn of the other ankle that tore all the ligaments, the 3-1 Bengals offense was averaging 377 yards and 32 points per game.
They finished the season winning three more games averaging 311 and 23 points per game and the slide began before A.J. Green and Andy Dalton got hurt. The Bengals scored four touchdowns in the first two quarters in Atlanta with him. Without Eifert making defensive coordinators crazy in the middle of the field, they scored six TDs in the next 14 quarters of Green, Dalton, Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd. With three 1,000-yard performers coming back, the Bengals aren't everyone's last destination for a new head coach.
"I'd be up to staying here. Yeah. It would have to depend a little bit (on the new offensive coordinator)," Eifert said. "You have to weigh all the factors. (It was different when Lewis was here last year), you knew what you were getting. I would think they would want me back. I would say there is frustration with all my injuries. But I think it's pretty obvious how the offense runs when I'm in there. Pretty good."
Eifert says that's how he feels these days. Even better. And he knows how it is supposed to feel on the rehab table.
This time it's the right ankle. He hurt that just when he thought he had cleared up all the back problems that limited him to two games in 2017 and eight games in 2016. The back reached out and pulled him back from the rehab healing partially torn the ligaments in the other ankle in that suddenly long-ago Pro Bowl.
"My back was feeling better than it had felt," Eifert said of this jaunty early season. "It was like it was back to normal. It was an every-day thing that I'd have to think about it. That's just how it was. Every day. But the back was feeling great. I guess something else had to give."
Like the elbow on his ninth play of the 2014 opener. A season-ending dislocation as ugly as the play in Atlanta. Or the neck injury that limited him to three snaps in the Wild Card Game of his rookie year.
He admits this time that retirement floated through his mind ever so briefly. But a nanosecond for a guy that turns 29 on Opening Day.
"I don't get it," Eifert said of the litany. "They say it's unlucky. But I'm pretty lucky. Just to be here. You have to keep it in perspective. I'm lucky. I've been put in some good positions in my life."
Teamed again with another effective regimen executed by Bengals rehab chief Nick Cosgray, who has spent more time with Eifert than a sibling, and Eifert says it's feeling so good he couldn't have any thoughts of retirement. It may help that the injury at the Pro Bowl and this one are quite similar. It was the back that ended up knocking him out of the next season.
"It's the same hardware that was in my left ankle. That didn't have any issues. It's the same rehab" Eifert said. "I'm a lot more aware how to handle this one. I was just too heavy and didn't focus enough on my core and worried about my ankle."
It turns out, Eifert is like a lot of Bengals these days who aren't rehabbing after they said farewell to Lewis.
"I enjoyed playing for him," Eifert said. "I sent him a text and thanked him for the opportunity to play in the league. I think a lot of guys are sad to see him go. But just like all of us, we don't know if we'll be here tomorrow."