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Healthy Eifert Could Have Huge Impact

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 31, 2015 – 1:16 pm

During training camp I’m often asked, “What player has been the most impressive?”

In each of the last two years, my answer has been Tyler Eifert.

But don’t take my word for how good the tight end looks at practice. Just listen to former Bengals wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

The 2007 Pro Bowler served as a coaching intern during the Bengals’ June minicamp and wore a GoPro camera on his chest during a workout for Bengals.com. Houshmandzadeh could be heard gushing about Eifert as he watched him run pass patterns.

“Every time I see that boy run a route I can’t believe it,” said Houshmandzadeh. “I can’t believe that man! He’s too big to be moving like that. That’s crazy.”

On Thursday, I asked Eifert if he had seen the Houshmandzadeh video.

“I have a family friend that sent it to me,” Tyler said. “When he first got here I told him that I want to be coached. Any advice you have for me about route running let me know. He helped a lot.”

Of all of the injured players that the Bengals look forward to having back this season, Eifert could have the biggest impact. Consider that the former first round draft pick was only on the field for eight snaps before suffering an elbow injury in the season opener last year and had 3 catches for 37 yards.

“It was a lot of fun – I remember that,” said Eifert. “The most catches I ever had in a game was five my rookie year, so I was like, ‘This could be a lot of fun this year.’ Then I didn’t make it through the first quarter. Hopefully I can change that this year.

“You really don’t realize how much you miss being out there until you can’t be out there. It was hard and I’m excited to contribute this year and help us win games.”

Tyler Eifert

Those eight snaps in Baltimore provided a glimpse of the wide variety of ways that offensive coordinator Hue Jackson can use the 6’6”, 250 pound tight end. Eifert lined up as a traditional tight end four times, a slot receiver three times, and an H-back once. The Bengals averaged 7.5 yards per play with Eifert on the field and he caught all three passes that were thrown to him. Additionally, Andy Dalton was 8-for-10 for 78 yards before Eifert’s injury.

“It’s good to have him back and good to see that he’s feeling better,” said Dalton. “He’s a big matchup mismatch for us. The more that he can do, the better we’ll be.”

In addition to dislocating his elbow at Baltimore, Eifert tore labrum in his shoulder during OTAs before last season. Both injuries eventually required surgery, but the former Notre Dame standout says they are no longer an issue.

“I feel good,” he said. “I feel healthy, strong, in-shape, and ready to go.

“I saw (4-time Pro Bowler) Jake Long down in Pensacola and every season he’s had a surgery. I’m just going to go out and play hard and not worry about any of the other stuff.”

Although Eifert is only in his third NFL season, he is the Bengals only tight end with regular season experience (not including H-back Ryan Hewitt) following the departure of free agent Jermaine Gresham.

“It is a little bit weird when you put it that way, but I’m confident in what I can do on the field and being a leader in this locker room,” said Eifert.

“I’ve seen him emerge this spring that way,” said head coach Marvin Lewis. “That’s a good thing. Another guy who missed all of last year basically and had to sit and watch so it’s been great to see him break out of that and progress the way we want him to.”

If you make it to one of the Bengals 14 open-to-the-public practices during training camp, I suspect that Eifert will stand out as one of the most impressive players.

And if he stays healthy, the 24-year-old could be poised for a breakout season.

“There’s only so much that you can control and getting hurt isn’t one of them,” said Eifert. “And how many balls you get thrown to you isn’t one of them either. It’s just, go out and work hard, understand the offense, and do your job.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

 


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Hunt Hopeful For Rapid Return

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 30, 2015 – 3:28 pm

Remember the “Margus Hunt Show” in the Bengals’ final preseason game last year?

Margus Hunt vs Colts

The 6’8,” 290-pound defensive end terrorized the Indianapolis Colts with three sacks and three additional QB hurries in a 35-7 win.

Unfortunately, one week later, Hunt suffered the first of several injuries that limited his impact as he finished with one sack in 12 regular season games. He added a shared sack in the playoff loss at Indianapolis.

“I was called injury prone a lot, but it wasn’t anything that had to do with me being weak,” said Hunt. “In the first game at Baltimore, Steve Smith Sr. knocked the wind out of me and bruised my ribs. That lingered for half of the season. Then I got hit on the side of the knee in the Tennessee game. It was just all of these little things. An ankle injury kept me out for four weeks – it was just stuff like that. But this is football. Everybody gets hurt.”

The ribs, knee, and ankle have healed. Now the 28-year-old is trying to rebound from a lower back injury suffered in the offseason.

“With an injury like that you have to be really careful, so we were really cautious about the rehab process and the strength process,” said Hunt. “It just takes time to really get it to a point where we can start adding more stuff to it.

“It’s about 80% now if not even more. I’ve been working out really good for a while now, but that is kind of different from what happens on the field.”

Hunt will open training camp on the Active/Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list. He can be activated to practice as soon as he is cleared medically.

“I feel positive and confident that I will be back during camp and will be able to play in a preseason game at least – if not two – we’ll see how it goes,” he said. “It’s just a matter of the coaches, the training room staff, and (strength coach) Chip Morton seeing where I’m at with football conditioning.

“We’re still on the rough timeline for where we thought we would be. I was expecting and hoping to be back sooner and being healthy to go right now. But I will be taking part in the conditioning and testing and trying to see where I’m at with that and we’ll go from there.”

The former second round draft pick faces stiff competition for a roster spot in the crowded defensive line room.

“It will be a very competitive camp,” Hunt said. “I have this little setback, but I just feel that if I go out there and do what I’ve been doing and what I can do, I definitely feel positive about still being part of this team.

“We’re at the point right now where I can’t take part in team activities yet, but it’s a day-to-day basis. As of right now I’m still planning on playing in the regular season.”

Hunt would not commit to a specific timetable for when he expects to practice, but the former SMU standout is clearly optimistic.

“I have a good feeling about it being sooner rather than later,” he said. “There is no pain whatsoever right now.”

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1

 


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RIP Van Miller

Posted by Dan Hoard on July 20, 2015 – 10:53 pm

If you live in Los Angeles, you have Vin Scully. If you live here in Cincinnati, you have Marty Brennaman. And if you grew up when I did in Western New York, you had Van Miller.

Van Miller with dates

The legendary Voice of the Buffalo Bills died last Friday at the age of 87 and while I only talked to him a few times, he had a profound impact on my life and career.

When I was a kid, Van Miller was everywhere. He not only called Bills’ games on the radio, but he was also the voice of the NBA’s Buffalo Braves (now the Los Angeles Clippers), the primary sports anchor on the local CBS-TV affiliate, and the host of a televised high school quiz show called “It’s Academic.”

(I actually joined my high school quiz bowl team in hopes of meeting him, but we didn’t advance to the TV round. There apparently weren’t enough sports questions for me to make a significant contribution.)

Van was outstanding at all of those jobs, but you could tell that he loved doing play-by-play of live sporting events the most. It’s one of the reasons why that became my dream job for as long as I can remember.

Like any great play-by-play announcer, Van provided a detailed and accurate description of the game, but what made him one of the all-time greats was his enthusiasm and flair for the dramatic.

Check out his call of “The Comeback” – Buffalo’s record-setting rally from a 32-point deficit to beat Houston 41-38 in the 1992 NFL playoffs.

I get chills every time I hear him say, “It is bedlam! It is pandemonium! It is fandemonium! It is…(slight pause) fantastic.

NFL Films loved using Van Miller’s calls. Here’s what the late Steve Sabol, former president of NFL Films, once told the Buffalo News:

“We have an expression called ‘deliver the moment,” Sabol said. “The ability to rise to the occasion when something great is happening, to deliver the moment that may be engraved in fans’ memories and their ears and eyes forever. You could see a great Bills play and you knew you were going to get something from Van that would match and complement and enhance whatever we were going to do with the music and the picture and the story. Van was like having an Academy Award-winning supporting actor always ready to deliver that moment when you needed it.”

Van was also hysterically funny without being snarky. His humor wasn’t mean-spirited – it was more of a gentle nudge than a shot to the ribs.

I have never consciously attempted to sound like another announcer, but when I listen to old clips of Van, I realize that my style and many of the expressions that I use were heavily influenced by listening to him.

During Buffalo’s run of four straight trips to the Super Bowl, I covered many of their games for WTVH-TV in Syracuse. I introduced myself to Van in the press box and got a big kick out of the full-length fur coat that he wore in the booth when the weather turned nasty in Buffalo (usually about mid-September). But I never had a long conversation with him during those seasons.

Van Miller fur coat

Two years ago when the Bengals played in Buffalo, I finally had the opportunity to tell Van how much I admired his work and that he was one of the biggest reasons why I pursued a career in sports broadcasting. He was delighted to hear that I grew up near Jamestown – not far from his childhood home in Dunkirk. When I asked if he would pose for a picture, Van suggested that we take two – one serious photo and one where we pretend to fight.

Van Miller

The Bengals return to Buffalo this year on October 18th. I’m saddened that Van won’t be there. If not for him, I might not be there either.

I’d love to hear from you at Dan.Hoard@Bengals.nfl.net

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow my tweets at http://twitter.com/Dan_Hoard

And I’m on Facebook at www.facebook.com/dan.hoard.1


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