With 52, 56 and 64 catches in his first three seasons, Jermaine Gresham became the first tight end in Cincinnati Bengals history to string together back-to-back-to-back seasons with at least 50.
When the Bengals drafted tight end Tyler Eifert in the first round in April, it looked as though the rookie might cut into some of Gresham’s production. But the opposite has been the case.
Even with Eifert on the field for 69 percent (96 of 140) of the snaps through the first two games, Gresham’s numbers have increased across the board as he has been in for 139 of the 140 snaps. The Bengals have employed a two-tight end set on the vast majority of their 140 offensive snaps.
“I just don’t think a lot of people have two tight ends like we have,” offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said. “The big thing is trying to find another guy to take some heat off AJ (Green). And B, make sure when we do spread the ball around that these guys are ready to make plays. So far, they have done that.”
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton has targeted Gresham 14 times through the first two games, with the two-time Pro Bowler hauling in 11 of those passes for 101 yards. That puts him on pace for 88 catches and 808 yards, both of which of would be career highs.
Last year through two games, Gresham was targeted 13 times with seven catches for 67 yards.
Eifert, meanwhile, has been targeted 10 times with eight catches for 113 yards and has proven to be not only a viable weapon, but a versatile one.
“We can put Tyler in five or six different spots,” Gruden said. “He can play on the line, off the line, in the slot, outside. Jermaine can play outside. Now Giovani (Bernard) can play outside. So we are just trying to make it hard for the poor coach on the other team to break us down. We might not be very effective, but we are making his life hard.”
Eifert ranks second on the team behind Green with 113 receiving yards, 61 of which came Monday night on the team’s longest play of the season.
Gresham, meanwhile, ranks second to Green in receptions with 11. His six catches Monday night shared the team with Green, and Gresham’s 66 yards shared the team lead with Eifert.
“We’ve got guys across the board who on any given day can do what they do,” Gresham said. “It just happened to be my day the last game. That’s kudos to (Dalton) and (Gruden). Andy is finding us and getting us the ball when we’re open.”
Eifert said the double-tight end set has helped with his transition to the NFL because it’s something he was familiar with at Notre Dame.
“We ran two tight ends pretty much the whole time,” he said. “I think that’s helped me be able to pick up the offense well enough to know all of the different positions they’ve put me in. So far it’s been fun and it’s been good and hopefully we’ll continue running all these two-tight end sets.”
Eifert’s numbers put him on pace for 64 catches and 904 yards, which would be the most yards in a single season by a Bengals tight end since Dan Ross had 910 in the 1981 Super Bowl season.
“I’m surprised he doesn’t have more catches right now,” Gruden said. “That’s how good I think he is. That’s the thing about this offense, it’s going to be somebody different every week. It could be Mo (Sanu), it could be Tyler, it could be Jermaine, it could be AJ, it could be Marvin (Jones). As long as everybody keeps buying into the system and keeps working hard, then they will get rewarded.”