Offseason Update: On new TE Tyler Eifert, defensive versatility

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Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert (85) stands on the field during the National Anthem prior to an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019, in Cincinnati. The Steelers won 16-10. (Aaron Doster via AP)

JACKSONVILLE – Doug Marrone's thoughts on Tyler Eifert are clear.

"I really like him," Marrone said.

The Jaguars' head coach isn't alone, and he made clear while appearing on "Jaguars Happy Hour" with J.P. Shadrick Thursday afternoon that Jaguars coaches and personnel officials agreed Eifert could significantly help a tight end position that has struggled at times in recent seasons.

"He's a veteran player who has done a very good job," Marrone said of Eifert. "He can stretch the field vertically. He can make the tough catches. He has that vet savvy to him where he can use his body and his hands to get himself open.

"He's a really good route-runner with a good route tree and that's obviously going to help us."

Eifert, who spent his first seven NFL seasons with the Cincinnati Bengals, agreed to terms this week to sign with the Jaguars as an unrestricted free agent. The Jaguars announced the move this week in accordance with NFL rules.

Eifert, a first-round selection in the 2013 NFL Draft from Notre Dame, made the Pro Bowl following the 2015 season. He has 185 career receptions for 2,152 yards and 24 touchdowns, and caught a career-high 13 touchdowns in 2015.

While Eifert has struggled with injuries in his career – playing eight or more games in a season just four times in seven seasons – he played in 16 games for the first time in his career last season. He has a chance to add versatility and production to a tight-end group that last season produced 53 receptions for 459 yards and three touchdowns.

"He's a guy who can play the Y (in-line) tight end on normal downs, and definitely be able to get in there and mix it up in combinations with the linemen or go one-on-one with linebackers," Marrone said. "Talking to him, he feels great. He's excited.

"This is the first offseason where he hasn't had to worry about injury and he can get himself ready to go."

Eifert will become the most experienced player in a tight end group that includes James O'Shaughnessy (sixth NFL season), Josh Oliver (second season) and Charles Jones (second season). O'Shaughnessy caught 14 passes for 153 yards and two touchdowns before a Week 5 season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament and Oliver – a third-round selection in the 2019 NFL Draft – played just four games because of injuries. Jones played four games late in the season.

"He'll bring some veteran presence and help a guy like Josh Oliver, who we feel really good about," Marrone said. "James O'Shaughnessy was really playing well before his injury. Charles did a good job and showed he can block as a true Y.

"That position, we feel good about. That position's coming together. We still have some work to do, but right now we're working in the right direction."

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Marrone on Thursday also discussed the emphasis in free agency to address a run defense that ranked 27th in the NFL last season. The team's first free-agent move of the 2020 League Year was acquiring former Cleveland Browns middle linebacker Joe Schobert, also adding former Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Rodney Gunter, former Seattle Seahawks defensive tackle Al Woods and former Cardinals edge defender Cassius Marsh. "When you're looking at bettering your football team and you start writing some things down … obviously ourselves – the coaches, the scouts, myself along with [general manager] Dave [Caldwell] – we talked about, 'Hey, listen, let's get some people in here that can defend the run and stop the run, that can make the tackle,' '' Marrone said. "That's what we looked at: some big-body guys that can move well. We got some big-body guys who can hold the line of scrimmage, and I think it's going to help us. …" The addition of Schobert will allow Myles Jack to move from the middle to the weak-side linebacker position, and Marrone said Marsh can play a role at strong-side linebacker in addition to edge rusher. "We feel we're going to get better play out of the whole linebacker crew," Marrone said. "There's some versatility and there's versatility along the line, too."

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