By Conrad Clowers
Cincinnati Herald Contributor
You always hear about the front line starters. The guys who make names for themselves. If you’re an NFL player, your number will be called. You will get your chance. It’s not a matter of ‘if’. It’s just a matter of ‘when.’ The game is too violent and too many injures occur for the starters to make it through three hours of grueling punishment week in and week out.
Tyler Eiffert is considered one of the most talented players on the Bengal roster. There’s only one problem. The star tight end cannot stay on the field. Eiffert has been hampered by injury his entire Bengal career. There’s a saying in the NFL. It’s called ‘next man up.’ For the Cincinnati Bengals that next man is Tyler Kroft. Kroft has started to make a name for himself in Eiffert’s absence. The Bengal tight end has played in all four games, starting in two. In his two starts, he has tallied 10 catches for 101 yards with two touchdowns. Kroft, who is comparable in size with Eiffert at 6-6, has used his size as an advantage over smaller defensive backs.
Stepping up is nothing new to Kroft. While Eiffert was hurt much of the 2016 season, Kroft stepped up. In 14 games the Rutgers’ product had 11 starts. He did not see the ball nearly as much in his starts last season as he received only 10 catches for 92 yards all of last season. Former offensive coordinator Ken Zampese had a different philosophy for utilizing Kroft than current OC Bill Lazer has. It has worked to the Bengals advantage. The Bengals got their first win over the Cleveland Browns this past weekend in a 31-7 route. Kroft was a big part of that with his six catches.
It’s really been no surprise that Kroft has shined the way he has. At Rutgers he was one of the teams biggest stars. The Bengal tight end was named first team All-American Athletic Conference in 2013. Cincinnati will have some decisions to make about the tight end position at the end of the season. While Eiffert’s contract will be up at the end of the 2017 season, Cincinnati will have to decide whether to extend him, franchise tag him, or let him test the waters of free agency. The emerging of Kroft lets the Bengals know they have a solid player that can step in. As Kroft may not have the talent of Eiffert his durability cannot be questioned.
The Bengals will face Buffalo this coming weekend. A loss to Buffalo puts Cincinnati at 1-4 going into a bye leading right to Pittsburgh. Any post-season light will likely be extinguished. A win puts Cincinnati at 2-3 and right back in the hunt of the division title. One thing is for sure. One way or another, production will come from the tight end position with Tyler Croft on the field.