FILE - In this May 27, 2014, file photo, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert catches a pass during an NFL football organized team activity in Cincinnati. Eifert missed all but part of the season opener last year, costing the Bengals a top receiving threat. He expects to be fully recovered from shoulder surgery by the time training camp opens. (AP Photo/Al Behrman, File)
CINCINNATI — Tyler Eifert is still recovering from his lost season.
The Bengals tight end tore the labrum in his left shoulder during off-season workouts last year, but decided to play through the injury. He dislocated his right elbow during the season opener, effectively ending his year.
The elbow is fine, but Eifert is still recovering from surgery in December to fix his shoulder. Everything is going well enough to make him optimistic that he'll be ready for the start of training camp in July.
"That's why I'm excited now because I'm feeling strong, feeling upbeat," Eifert said. "I'm not in any pain. It feels good."
Eifert can run routes and catch passes, but isn't allowed to have any physical contact during the team's offseason workouts. He's not yet back to full strength after losing about 15 pounds following operations on his elbow and shoulder last year.
The Bengals sorely missed Eifert, who had three catches before he got hurt. As a rookie in 2013, he caught 39 passes for 445 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
Starting tight end Jermaine Gresham became a free agent after last season, moving Eifert up to the top spot on the depth chart for the first time.
"I mean, time flies," Eifert said. "It does feel a little weird, but at the same time I feel confident. I know our offense and I'm getting back healthy and strong, so I feel good.
"With Jermaine in the room — I loved him, and I wish he was still here. But guys move on, and now it's my turn to step up into that role and lead the tight ends."
Gresham finished second on the team with 62 catches for 460 yards and five touchdowns. The rest of the tight ends combined for 18 catches and 144 yards without a touchdown. The Bengals need Eifert to get healthy to balance out the passing game with Gresham gone.
The Bengals drafted Rutgers tight end Tyler Kroft in the third round and Auburn tight end C.J. Uzomah in the fifth round. Eifert is looking forward to turning into their mentor when they report for rookie minicamp this weekend.
"I'm in my third year and we've got two young guys and now they're going to be asking me questions," Eifert said. "So it's kind of crazy how things change that quickly. But I'm excited to have them. I'm excited to work with them."
When Eifert got hurt, the Bengals put him on injured reserve with the designation that he could return in the second half of the season. The elbow didn't heal as hoped, so he had surgery. Then he got the shoulder fixed as well.
Eifert couldn't lift weights or work out because of the operations, so he lost weight and a lot of his strength. He's back to 250 pounds, his normal weight, but has a lot more work to do to regain his strength.
"I couldn't really do anything there for three or four months," he said. "So it's just getting that back, getting back in the groove of lifting and getting strong, that's probably been the hardest part.
"You start pretty light and you never think you're going to get stronger again. It slowly starts to come back and then it gets fun again when you can really start pushing some weight around. That's about where I'm at right now."
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