Tyler Kroft is doing what he's always done in his two seasons as a Bengal.
With Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert shelved for anywhere from zero to the first couple of games of the season (no one is saying anything about him starting the season on the physically unable to perform list), Kroft is quietly solid. As he was when he made his first NFL starts in the biggest games of the year and delivered.
It will be recalled Kroft started for the injured Eifert in San Francisco on Dec. 20 and caught a huge 20-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half that blew open a tight game. And the next week in the Monday Night Mile High pressure cooker, Kroft did all he could to secure a post-season berth that evaporated in an overtime loss to Denver. His 15-yard catch on third-and-eight from the Bengals 46 set up Mike Nugent's tying field goal with 7:10 left in the game and he finished as the Bengals' second leading receiver with 46 yards on four catches.
"It gives a little confidence to everything. I thought I played pretty well," Kroft said before Saturday's practice as he reflected on the stretch. "Obviously there's a lot to clean up and a lot I can get better at, but having that in-game experience, especially later in the season when we were having some bigger games, I think definitely helps coming into this."
Kroft, the 2015 third-round pick out of Rutgers, got high grades in all areas. Including from Eifert himself.
"He's all-around. He's a great blocker," Eifert said. "He can run and catch the ball. He's all-around solid.
"He prepares the right way. He's always sure he's on the plays and asking questions. Taking notes and doing all those things you have to do when you're young so when it's his time to step in and step up he can go in and play well."
Kroft is in a much different place this year in so many ways. Along with Hback Ryan Hewitt, he's the most experienced tight end in camp. And he's got command of the playbook.
"I would say just trusting in myself," Kroft said of the key difference from year one to year two. "I know the playbook. I study it week in and week out to make sure I'm up to speed with everything. Last year, the moment could get a little big sometimes, but you've just got to trust in yourself."
He's at the point where he's looking to "clean up,' things.
"Like routes," he said. "Getting in and out of my breaks could be cleaner. The run game, especially. I want to be able to hold my own better in the run game and be able to block better. It's just overall elevating my game."
He went a long way in doing that when he returned looking a lot thicker in the upper body after spending the offseason in the weight room. He'll spend camp fluctuating between 248 and 255 pounds.
"I'm five pounds bigger, but the weight is on me better," Kroft said. "I feel a little bigger and stronger than last year."
Cincinnati Bengals host Training Camp at Paul Brown Stadium Practice Fields 07/30/2016