CINCINNATI — Tyler Eifert pointed to a crescent-shaped scar surrounding the ball on his left ankle. That little spot is sidelining the Cincinnati Bengals tight end for training camp, and maybe more.
He had surgery two months ago to repair a partial ligament tear that he suffered during the Pro Bowl. He was in a cast for six weeks and has to wear a protective boot for at least another week.
Eifert was the most prominent Bengal who couldn’t participate Friday in the first practice of training camp. Linebacker Rey Maualuga initially had been ruled out because of an offseason injury, but he was cleared to participate a few hours before practice.
Eifert’s injury is a significant setback to a team still looking for its playoff breakthrough — no postseason victory in 25 years. Eifert set a club record for touchdown catches by a tight end (13). He became Andy Dalton’s favorite target near the goal line with his 6-foot-6 frame and dependable hands.
He also made his first Pro Bowl. His cleats grabbed the ground on one step and he twisted his foot. Initially it was thought to be an injury that would heal with time, but it never got better.
“The injury I had — more times than not you don’t have surgery,” Eifert said. “I did everything right, followed the protocol, and it just didn’t heal the way it was supposed to. It was something that had to be done.”
The season opener is six weeks away — in New York against the Jets on Sept. 11 — which doesn’t leave much time for him to get the ankle back to full strength and get himself in playing shape. It’s possible he’ll be sidelined or limited for the first few games.
“There’s a long progression that you have to go through here to return to play,” Eifert said. “You’ve got to be watched by a lot of different eyes and go through a lot of different steps.”
The injury has convinced Eifert that his first Pro Bowl appearance will be his last.
“If I ever get asked back, that is,” Eifert said. “But no. I mean, it was one of my most favorite weekends I’ve ever had, just hanging out with the guys. It’s cool. You play against these guys all year long. Some of the guys have been in the Pro Bowl multiple years that you watched growing up. You’re in the pool hanging out. It was a lot of fun.
“Then it comes to (game day) and you’re on the bus going, ‘We’re going to play a game? Holy …’. So it was a great week, but I don’t want to risk going through this again.”
Maualuga initially was ruled out of practice because of an offseason injury that sidelined him for a month. The Bengals will be missing linebacker Vontaze Burfict for the first three games of the season, when he serves his NFL suspension for illegal hits. Maualuga wanted to be on the field for the start of camp.
“I don’t want to just show up a week or two before our first game and (coaches are) trying to rush and get me to do this and do that,” he said.
Notes: Coach Marvin Lewis’ theme for this season — featured on black shirts he left in each player’s locker — is “Pound The Rock,” with a logo of two crossed hammers. “I just feel like once the last season ended and I began thinking about 2016, we had to stay the course and we had to keep pounding,” he said. … Maualuga had a new look: black and orange dreadlocks. He and Burfict agreed to get their heads shaved as a new look for the season, but Maualuga changed his mind. “Eventually I will,” Maualuga said. “My daughter tells me to cut it all the time, so in due time I will.” … Rookie WR Tyler Boyd took a pitch on a reverse and threw a touchdown on the third play of 11-on-11 drills, filling the versatile role of former WR Mohamed Sanu. “They brought me here to suit my athleticism all around the field,” Boyd said.
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