Tyler Eifert's possible breakout campaign hinges on 'trust' with Andy Dalton

Tyler Eifert wants to be mentioned in the same breath as the league's best tight ends. John Grieshop/Getty Images

CINCINNATI -- On the first play of an eventual scoring drive in last Saturday's scrimmage inside Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert jumped high for a pass thrown above his head and came down with it for a long completion.

But don't believe the 22-yard throw was a bad one from his quarterback, Andy Dalton.

With defenders hovering close to Eifert, about the only place Dalton could place the football was in a spot where his tight end could out-jump the looming safeties and linebackers. The fact Dalton knew he could successfully deliver what otherwise might have been an overthrow goes to the heart of something the Bengals hope to see all this season: trust.

"I want to be someone Andy can trust," Eifert said. "I want it to be where we're on the same page. Even if [I'm] not open, go on and put the ball up and I'll go make the play."

Trust is a characteristic all the league's top pass-catchers have with their quarterbacks. What explains the highlight-reel passes Calvin Johnson has caught from Matthew Stafford, or the one-handed grabs Rob Gronkowski has received from Tom Brady? What about some of the difficult diving and body-contorting catches A.J. Green has had from Dalton even?

"You look at a lot of tight ends in the league, there's some really good ones," Eifert said. "But when it comes down to it, their quarterback trusts them. Like if it's third-and-8 and you've got to run a route. Whether you're open or not, the quarterback's going to trust those guys: the [Jason] Wittens, the Gronks and those guys. The quarterback is locked on them and has trusted they're going to get open."

Before dislocating his right elbow while being tackled late in the first quarter of the season opener at Baltimore, Eifert already had three catches for 37 yards. He seemed on the cusp of a breakout second season.

But then came a season-long stay on the injured reserve. He had surgery on his elbow during the season, as well as on a shoulder that had bugged him throughout that previous offseason. The IR stint followed up a rookie season in 2013 that saw him play through multiple ailments. Despite his best efforts to play the full season, a neck injury forced him out of the regular-season finale, and made him ineffective in the playoff loss a week later.

Dalton is confident Eifert can build upon the glimpse he showed in those few plays last season.

"He's a smart player and he understands how to get open," Dalton said. "That's the biggest part is the trust that he's going to be in the right spot, going to run his route the right way. He's really good at that. That's a big reason why we've been able to connect, and why he's hit some big plays for us throughout camp."

With no Jermaine Gresham this year, there's little reason to believe Eifert won't get his share of big-play opportunities at tight end. He was targeted 62 times two years ago. Maybe he'll hit 80 this year.

Part of Eifert's mission this season hinges on having his name mentioned alongside the likes of Jason Witten, Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and other top pass-catching tight ends.

"That's the goal: to be the best tight end in the league," Eifert said. "That's what you shoot for. Keep doing my job, stay healthy and everything will take care of itself."