When Brian Kelly was still the head coach at Cincinnati, he tried to convince Tyler Eifert to play for the Bearcats. The tight end chose Notre Dame instead, only to have Kelly take over as head coach when Charlie Weis was fired before Tyler’s sophomore year.
“We were looking for this kind of player in our offense at Cincinnati and it just worked out that when I took the job at Notre Dame, he and Kyle Rudolph fell in my lap,” Kelly told me. “They made me look pretty good.”
Rudolph was named the MVP of the Pro Bowl this year following his second season with the Minnesota Vikings. The former Elder High School star was one year ahead of Eifert at Notre Dame and a more obvious NFL prospect.
“He came in his freshman year ready to play,” said Eifert. “I came in at 210 pounds just happy to have a scholarship. I obviously knew that there was a lot of work that I had to do.”
But Kelly could see Eifert’s pro potential.
“Obviously some kids have to grow and mature and he certainly did,” said Kelly. “You knew that Kyle was a sure-fire NFL player and then you saw Tyler Eifert and some of the things that he did – I knew immediately that he was going to be a special player.”
Despite not having a catch as a freshman, Eifert left Notre Dame with the school’s all-time record for receptions by a tight end with 140. When the Bengals contacted Kelly to discuss his tight end before the draft, they received a rave review.
“We was kind of glowing in talking about Tyler and what Tyler meant to their football team,” said Marvin Lewis. “He really felt like he was able to use him in a lot of ways in a mismatch against the defense and that he would give us a lot of flexibility.”
“I told the Bengals that Tyler is smart – he got his degree from Notre Dame in three-and-a-half years,” said Kelly. “He’s physically and mentally tough. And he’s the best pass catcher that I’ve coached – whether it be a wide receiver or a tight end.
“I would think that making the contested catch is probably his strength when you come to all of the intangibles at the tight end position. He will take the ball away from you when the ball is in the air. He turns field goals into touchdowns in the red zone.”
Adding a red zone weapon is obviously one of the reasons why the Bengals used their first round draft pick on a tight end despite already having two-time Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham on the roster.
“I think the Bengals are going to have so many different opportunities with Gresham as the other tight end,” said Kelly. “Now you force teams to drop down to single safety and single coverage because they have to defend the run. I think that tight end package is something that a lot of NFL teams have looked at and found that they can get some favorable matchups. At Notre Dame, we used that a lot last year and really think that it gave us some great opportunities.”
In addition to thinking that Eifert will be a good fit for the Bengals offense, the Notre Dame Coach says that the 22-year-old from Fort Wayne, IN will fit in nicely in Cincinnati.
“He loves country music and will golf every day if he can,” said Kelly with a laugh. “I told him, ‘You’re a perfect fit for Cincinnati. If those two things are on your wish list, you can’t get a better city than Cincinnati.’ He’s a pretty casual guy. Flip-flops and shorts is generally how he is seen around campus. He’s got a great personality, big smile, but he’s really a laid-back kind of guy.”
And while Eifert hasn’t spent much time talking about Cincinnati with his former college coach, he did discuss his new home with Kyle Rudolph.
“He said, ‘Welcome to the Nasty ‘Nati’ or something like that,” said Eifert. “He was telling me about the hangouts and he said that his parents live here if I need anything. I told him that I might just rent from his parents and stay in his room.”
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