Dallas Week got off to an unsettling start Wednesday when tight end Tyler Eifert missed practice after tweaking his back in Monday's practice. As of late Wednesday afternoon he had not been ruled out for this weekend as the Bengals reviewed a battery of tests and it was unclear if it is a short or long-term problem. After being cleared to practice in limited fashion two weeks ago for the first time since injuring ankle ligaments in the Jan. 31 Pro Bowl, the hope had been Eifert would be ready to be unleashed full go for Sunday's game (4:25 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) in Dallas. But he hurt his back while running a route in what was apparently a non-contact injury during Monday's practice closed to the media.
Add the back to the list of Eifert's ills. He missed all but nine snaps of the 2014 season with a dislocated elbow and separated shoulder. He missed three games last season with a stinger and concussion. And you can put the Bengals' red zone offense on the physically unable to perform list (PUP) without his 13 TDs from last year. They are next to last in the NFL in touchdown percentage inside the 20-yard line after being fifth in 2015.
Starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (hamstring), who missed Thursday night's win over Miami, was back on the field Wednesday.
Limited but expected to play were two guys who were hurt against the Dolphins Thursday night, starting left guard Clint Boling (shoulder) and kick returner Rex Burkhead (hamstring). Also limited at Wednesday's practice were starting running back Jeremy Hill (chest), starting safety Shawn Williams (thigh), backup wide receiver James Wright (hamstring) and backup tackle Jake Fisher (back).
DEZ ON SIDELINE: The Bengals held Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant to four catches for 50 yards the last time they met in the regular season back on Dec. 9, 2012 at Paul Brown Stadium. But one of them was an ice-cold 27-yard touchdown catch on a Tony Romo bullet over the middle on first-and-10 to cut Cincinnati's lead to 19-17 with 6:35 left in the game and set up Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey's 40-yard field goal at the gun.
Bryant hasn't been ruled out, but he missed last Sunday's win in San Francisco with a broken bone in his lower right leg. He didn't practice Wednesday, but he had one up on Eifert when he was on the side doing resistance drills.
Cornerback Adam Jones remembers that route, but maybe the workouts with Bryant even more. They were gym partners in New Orleans in the spring of 2010 when Jones was training for another tryout with the Bengals and Bryant was coming out of Oklahoma State and about to be picked in the first round by the big Cowboys.
"He's just a complete receiver. He's physical, he can run, he goes up and gets the ball at the highest point," Jones said before Wednesday's practice. "And he plays with a big swag. That's what makes him so good."
Jones is another guy that plays with that kind of swag and he doesn't mind.
"He's a good player. He'll talk," said Jones, who said he'll talk back. "It will be a pretty good conversation. But Dez and I don't have any bad blood. We worked out together in New Orleans. I have a great deal of respect for him, but on Sundays you know how that goes."
Jason Garrett is still the Dallas head coach and they're running his offense. But Jones doesn't know how much film work he'll need with Romo out and fourth-round pick Dak Prescott at the controls.
"The call is going to be different because Romo's not in. It's almost like you're damned if you do and damned if you don't watch it," said Jones of the 2012 tape.