Cincinnati fans – and more importantly, quarterback Andy Dalton – will get their first look at wide receiver Brandon LaFell in a Bengals jersey Sunday night in Jacksonville.
LaFell, who signed a one-year contract with the Bengals in March, has missed the first two preseason games with a right hand injury, but he’s expected to play against the Jaguars after practicing all week.
“I’m going to give it a go this Sunday and see how my hand feels, but so far it’s been feeling good,” said LaFell, who suffered the injury Aug. 11 in the joint practice against the Minnesota Vikings.
“It’s different in a game,” he continued. “Everything goes faster and you’re getting hit. It’s not when you catch the ball and the whistle blowing and everybody stopping. Now, you have to catch the ball, you have to make a move, you have to finish and you have to make a guy miss. It’s different. The pass rush is live now so the ball is going to be coming out quicker. It’s different than practice so I definitely need to get out there.”
LaFell’s return takes on added importance given Friday’s report on NFL.com that Bengals Pro Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert is targeting his return from the ankle injury he suffered in the Pro Bowl to be somewhere between Weeks 4 and 6.
Eifert said Monday that he wasn’t putting a timetable on his return but was optimistic he could possibly be back for the opener. He made those comments before heading out to practice, where he was scheduled to run for the first time since having surgery in May.
With backup Tyler Kroft also rehabbing a knee injury suffered in practice Aug. 2, the Bengals could be facing the prospect of opening the season with C.J. Uzomah, last year’s fifth-round pick who had one catch for 4 yards, as the starting tight end.
That means Dalton will rely heavily on LaFell and second-round rookie Tyler Boyd to take some of the pressure of Pro Bowl wide receiver A.J. Green.
“I think definitely we’ve been getting better since OTAs and all through camp we just got better each and every day and kind of got held back with my hand,” LaFell said of his chemistry with Dalton. “But right now I feel like I’m getting back on track with it.”
Dalton will be LaFell’s third quarterback in four years after spending the 2014-15 with Tom Brady in New England and 2013 with Cam Newton in Carolina.
“Each guy has their own way they want the offense,” LaFell said. “Cam might want you this way and Brady may want you in this spot. Everybody has their own spots and everybody has their own feel so it’s just me getting out of the Brady ways and getting into the Andy ways – getting in the spots Andy wants me to be at and getting my head around at this yard line and that and getting my chemistry with Andy is the most important part of me getting back out there.”