With Tyler Eifert injured, ending mental errors becomes focus for backup TEs

Injuries at tight end have given the Bengals' backups, like C.J. Uzomah, a chance to make an impression this offseason. Aaron Doster/USA TODAY Sports

Once during the Cincinnati Bengals' most recent open organized team activity (OTA) practice, backup tight end C.J. Uzomah went down to the ground after a ball had been thrown his way.

He had just dropped a pass.

"I felt like I should have caught it," the second-year player from Auburn said. "We do [10] push-ups for drops and 15 for mental errors."

Why more for mental errors? Because they can often have a much more disastrous outcome for the overall team during a game than a drop. Think about it. If a player runs a route the quarterback isn't anticipating, the throw could end up going right into the hands of a defender for an interception.

"There are no mental errors," offensive coordinator Ken Zampese said. "Every ball that comes your way, you make a play on it. And the ones that are 50/50, you make more of those than the other guy."

As the Bengals continue through the offseason and keep trying to navigate life without Tyler Eifert, "no mental errors" has become a mantra in the locker room and team meetings.

It certainly applies to players like Uzomah, a youngster who is trying to capitalize on his practice opportunities now that Eifert is out of the mix following an ankle surgery last month. The Bengals are hopeful Eifert will be healthy in time for the season opener, but there's a chance he could miss that opening game, if not more time.

Until September rolls around, the Bengals will continue getting Uzomah and fellow second-year backup tight end Tyler Kroft up to speed.

"I feel like every day we're getting better," Kroft said. "But when they throw a lot at you and see if you can mentally handle it, it's different from sitting in a cold meeting room where everybody's comfortable from actually being out there [on the practice field] when it's hot and bullets are flying around every direction."

When mental flubs do happen in practice, aside from immediately dropping down for push-ups, what is the best course of action?

"Just don't let it ever happen again," Uzomah said. "We've had that happen once this OTA. We get an earful in meeting rooms. We make sure it happens once. It's never something that's a big thing. It's kind of like, 'All right, we didn't notice the front the defense was in.' Something like that. It's kind of a gray area. Once we cleared that up, we're usually in the clear and make the adjustment from there."

Eifter's health notwithstanding, this could still be an important season for Bengals tight ends. Cincinnati has demonstrated a desire for regularly employing multiple-tight end sets and formations, and is always looking for ways to add qualified blockers to beef up the running game. Any extra work Uzomah, Kroft or fellow backups Matt Lengel and John Peters get this summer could legitimately help the Bengals going forward.

For Uzomah, "extra work" has meant learning more positions this offseason than he did a year ago. Fresh out of a college offense that didn't formally use the tight end, Uzomah needed to be taught the nuances of various blocking and pass-catching positions out of the backfield and off the line of scrimmage. It's made the mental strain a little more difficult, prompting the "no mental errors" campaign.

"The hardest thing is being moved around a lot," Uzomah said. "Last year it was just, 'All right, you're going to be this position, like a wing position. Learn that.' Now it's like, know the wing, know fullback, know the Y, know everything."