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Tyler Eifert learned a valuable lesson from last year's Bengals OTAs

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CINCINNATI -- Tyler Eifert learned a valuable yet costly lesson on the very first day of organized team activities (OTAs) last May.

Stay on your feet.

Instinctively, the Cincinnati Bengals tight end dove to the ground during the offseason workout trying to make a play that was better suited for Week 17 of the regular season. A split second after the dive, Eifert realized exactly why he shouldn't have done it.

Right after Eifert hit the ground, safety George Iloka, unable to slow his own momentum in time, fell on his teammate, tearing the labrum in Eifert's left shoulder in the process.

Eifert's shoulder became pain-free for the first time since then just a few weeks ago. The year he effectively lost with an unrelated dislocated elbow and the shoulder's eventual surgery has Eifert approaching this year's OTAs much more carefully.

"It's your instinct [to dive]," Eifert said, asked about reaching for difficult passes, "but it's just not worth it in practice."

Eifert ended up taking just eight snaps last season. His year was cut short by the dislocated elbow at the end of a promising quarter in the season opener. On those eight snaps, Eifert caught three passes for 37 yards and had just put the Bengals in goal-line territory when he went down.

The recovery from the elbow injury took a little longer than originally expected, so once it appeared late last season that he might not get his conditioning back up in time to make much of a difference if he returned, he and the trainers decided it was best to place him on injured reserve and fix the shoulder once and for all. Before the December surgery, Eifert had fought through pain since last May in order to participate in limited capacity in various offseason and preseason practices. It was enough to get him to the opener before the elbow dislocation.

"It's going to make us better," Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said of Eifert's return this year.

In addition to getting back Eifert, who has been limited by injuries for much of his first two seasons, the Bengals also will have receiver Marvin Jones healthy again after his year-long layoff with foot and ankle issues. Receiver James Wright also will be back after spending the last few weeks of last season recovering from a knee injury suffered Week 13 at Tampa Bay.

While Eifert participated in OTAs Tuesday, he was limited to only 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 work. He didn't go through the 11-on-11 drills, allowing H-back Ryan Hewitt and rookies C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, Matt Lengel, Jake Murphy and John Peters to get action.

"We're just kind of taking it day to day, just easing back into things," Eifert said. "My shoulder and elbow are cleared 100 percent, but I'm just getting back into things gradually.

"I'll be out there soon enough."

Given Eifert's scare last spring, this year is all about precaution for the Bengals. Offensive tackle Andre Smith, who is months removed from having a triceps surgically repaired, didn't participate in 11-on-11 activity Tuesday, either.

"We're out there going 100 percent, but we practice smart," Eifert said. "Coach [Marvin Lewis] always says we've got to get to the starting gate healthy but also get our work in at the same time. We're just being smart about it."