JACKSONVILLE – Familiarity mattered.
Along with opportunity and fit, Tyler Eifert made that much clear Thursday – that when signing with the Jaguars this offseason, Jay Gruden was important.
"It was a big factor," Eifert said.
The two were together in Cincinnati in 2013 – Eifert as a rookie tight end and Gruden as the Bengals' offensive coordinator. This was just before the latter's stint as the Washington Redskins' head coach and well before he became the Jaguars' offensive coordinator this offseason.
"We get along great, and I have a good understanding for the offense that he runs – and a good feel for it," Eifert said.
Eifert, who signed as an unrestricted free agent in March, joined Jacksonville media on a video conference Thursday morning as he continued participating in the Jaguars' offseason program. He discussed multiple issues, including the injuries that in part defined his seven seasons with Cincinnati.
Eifert, a first-round selection by the Bengals in the 2013 NFL Draft, has 185 career receptions for 2,152 yards and 24 touchdowns. He made the Pro Bowl following a 2015 season in which he set career highs with 52 receptions for 615 yards and 13 touchdowns. He also missed at least eight games in four seasons and played 16 games in an NFL season for the first time last season.
"He wants to get back to that potential that he has," Jaguars tight ends coach Ron Middleton said recently.
Eifert's injuries have varied. He missed 15 games in his second season with a dislocated elbow. Back knee and ankle issues shortened his 2016, 2017 and 2018 seasons. Eifert said Thursday it was difficult to know why the injuries continued to occur.
"You just roll with the punches," he said. "It's a violent game and it's a dangerous sport and I just always try to control what I can control and put my best effort on the field and put myself in the best position to succeed. If I had a setback, then you deal with it and you get better and you come back the next year."
He called playing all 16 games last season "awesome," and said the grind of a full season was "a lot easier than expected."
"Every injury that I've had, once I get back to full-go, it's out of my mind; I'm not even thinking about it again," he said. "There are certain things that I have to do with all the injuries, just to make sure my body is feeling good, and I've learned over the years, how to get myself ready to play and things I can do to help prevent injuries and those types of things. Once you step out on the field, there is no thinking about getting hurt or anything; I'm just balls to the wall, full go."
Players who spend offseasons rehabilitating injuries often talk of feeling behind teammates because of time spent on that area as opposed to preparing physically to play. Eifert said Thursday he absolutely feels his first healthy NFL offseason will benefit him.
"Instead of your offseason being an opportunity to get better and be in the best physical shape you can possibly be going into a season, you end up just rehabbing and trying to just get healthy enough to play; you are behind most of the guys who have been getting better and getting faster and getting stronger," Eifert said. "Going through a rehab [on his ankle] two years ago, playing a full season and now having a full offseason to get my body ready and to get better as a player I think will be huge going into this year."
When Eifert will be on the field remains to be seen. The Jaguars' offseason program, like all NFL offseasons, is being held virtually because of COVID-19 regulations. That consists of video conference- and cloud-based learning, but Eifert said what he sees of Gruden's offense remains familiar – and that that familiarity will be welcome after multiple offensive coordinator changes in Cincinnati in recent seasons.
"Learning a new offense can be challenging at times," he said. "You feel like you are never going to get it. Eventually over time and all the reps, it clicks. Having that familiarity with the offense is really nice. There is some new stuff in here but being familiar with it and having a general idea of what's going on makes it a lot easier to learn."
Eifert said knowing the offense – and knowing multiple roles – is key in Gruden's scheme. That allows tight ends to create mismatches, something the position hasn't done enough for the Jaguars in recent seasons.
"I am willing to do whatever," Eifert said. "I am excited for the opportunity just to help the team and be a leader in the tight end room and the offense and play wherever they need me."