CINCINNATI -- A week ago, you probably would have called me crazy for deciding to write about the Cincinnati Bengals' third- and fourth-string tight ends.
You probably wouldn't have had much need for information about the pair. They are, after all, behind two players who are considered to be rising stars at the position. The starters also help pace an offense that regularly features one- and two-tight end sets that don't often give the backups an opportunity to play.
But when the top two guys, Jermaine Gresham and Tyler Eifert, missed all of this week's practices with injuries, the need arose to check out the players who might relieve them Sunday when the Bengals host the Ravens in their regular-season finale.
With Eifert and Gresham listed on Friday's injury report, the Bengals could be missing a pair of productive pass-catchers and two of their best blockers. Officially, Eifert was listed as doubtful with a neck injury and Gresham was questionable with a hamstring issue.
Combined, the two tight ends have caught 85 passes. They are both close to going over the 500-yard receiving mark. It would be a challenge for both of them to get over that hump this weekend, but certainly doable. Eifert has 445 yards; Gresham has 461.
As for their backups, Alex Smith and Orson Charles, it would be a miracle if that pair still ended up combining for 50 yards this season. Smith is the only one of the two with a reception this season. He's caught two passes for 5 yards.
A nine-year journeyman, Smith would be making just his second start of the season if he has to play for either Eifert or Gresham. His last start came in Cincinnati's 20-17 overtime loss at Baltimore at the start of last month. That day he caught one pass for 3 yards. The next week, he caught a 2-yard touchdown pass in the 41-20 romp over the Cleveland Browns.
Last season, as a rookie, Charles appeared in all 16 regular-season games. He started six. A true tight end at the time, he caught eight passes for 101 yards last year. He hasn't caught a single pass this year primarily because his role has changed. After playing tight end as a rookie and all throughout his college career, Charles was moved this preseason to H-back. When he is active and in games, he's mainly being used as a blocker out of the backfield.
Smith has 162 receptions for 1,466 yards and 13 touchdowns during his career.
If neither Gresham nor Eifert can go, don't expect too many passes to go in the spots where the tight ends would normally be playing. Instead, running back Giovani Bernard could become a greater option catching passes out of the backfield, and receivers A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Andrew Hawkins could be more significant options in the pass-catching game, too.