JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Jacksonville Jaguars tight end Tyler Eifert hopes to get a few extra passes thrown his way when he returns to Cincinnati, where he spent the first seven years of his NFL career.
He has already talked to quarterback Gardner Minshew about it.
“I think we’re trying to get like 20 targets just because,” Eifert joked Wednesday, four days before the Bengals (0-2-1) host the Jaguars (1-2). "I think you always want to play well against your old team. But I don’t want to be a distraction; I don’t want it to be about me.
"This team, we need to go in there and get a win and get things rolling in the right direction.”
The Jaguars have lost two straight, the latest one in lopsided fashion to Miami in prime time. They’ve had plenty of time to regroup since last Thursday’s 31-13 drubbing. For Eifert, it’s given him a chance to think about being on the visiting sideline at Paul Brown Stadium for the first time.
About 10 friends and family members will be on hand for his homecoming. But because of the league’s strict COVID-19 protocols, he won’t get to have dinner with them the night before the game or even hang with them in the hotel lobby.
“That’ll be a little bit different,” he said.
Seeing former teammates and coaches will be, too. Then again, Eifert insists he’s pretty much moved on from Cincinnati. He sold his house and an investment property there shortly after the team told him it had no plans to bring him back for an eighth season.
“We wanted some of those other guys to step up,” second-year Bengals coach Zac Taylor said. “That was really nothing to Tyler. That was just the future of the position for us. It’s important when a guy has given everything he’s given this organization that you’re up front, you let him know exactly what you’re thinking. And I think guys tend to appreciate that.”
Eifert landed with the Jags on a two-year, incentive-laden contract worth up to $15 million. It includes $3.25 million guaranteed and a team option for 2021.
New Jaguars offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was instrumental in getting Eifert to Jacksonville. They spent 2013 together in Cincinnati, with Gruden calling plays in his final year as offensive coordinator and Eifert catching 39 passes for 445 yards and two touchdowns as a rookie.
Gruden also will be returning to Cincy for the first time since his three-year tenure (2011-13) with the Bengals. He would have taken Washington there in 2016, but the game was played at Wembley Stadium in London.
“I think they’re glad I left, probably,” Gruden quipped. “Who knows? I like Cincinnati. I have a lot of respect for the Brown family. ... A ton of respect for them, nothing but good things. ... We had a lot of fun in those three years, had a lot of success. Unfortunately we didn’t win a playoff game, which still leaves a bad taste in our mouth. But like I said nothing but respect for that area and that organization.”
Six players remain from Gruden’s last and Eifert’s first season in Cincinnati: defensive tackle Geno Atkins, running back Giovani Bernard, defensive end Carlos Dunlap, receiver A.J. Green, punter Kevin Huber and safety Shawn Williams.
“I think you just get used to it. It was a little bit weird, but the way football is now,” Gruden said. “Times change, players change, coaches change.”
Eifert has come to grips with that over the past six months.
He finished his time with the Bengals with 185 receptions for 2,152 yards and 24 touchdowns — and one Pro Bowl appearance.
He has six catches for 55 yards and a score this season, most of those coming in the past two games. His role changed a little this week as he provided teammates and coaches with a better-than-normal scouting report.
“They’ve got some really good players and we’re going to have our hands full,” Eifert said.
Eifert’s hoping to have his hands full, too. Minshew has some control over that.
“I’m sure excited for Tyler and Coach Gruden, both going back to Cincinnati,” Minshew said. “It will be a big game for them. ... More than anything, you just want to do right by them.”
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