April 26, 2013
ML: “We’re really excited to be able to pick Tyler Eifert at No. 21. We feel he’s a player who’s going to add a lot to our football team in his first year, as a young player. He complements Jermaine (Gresham) and the other players we have. He’s got ability. To be moving around and doing a lot of things, show some flexibility, he’s been a very productive receiver at Notre Dame. He comes with great recommendation from (Notre Dame head coach) Brian Kelly. So it’s an exciting pick for us, and he’s a great young guy to add to our football team.”
Were you surprised that he was still available at pick No. 21?
ML: “I keep saying that (laughs). How can you say when a guy is going to be picked? You can’t. That’s when tight ends are picked. They’re picked around this area most of the time. That’s just where they go. There’s not been many traditionally over the years that go up higher than this area. So I don’t know that surprised is the word.”
So you’re pleasantly pleased?
ML: “Yeah. I started out saying that. He’s a guy that we felt that we would hopefully be considering — one of the guys we’d have an opportunity to be considering.”
With the athleticism you have at tight end, you’ll probably have some fun creating some two-tight end packages for these guys:
ML: “We played a lot of two-tight end sets, obviously. So it provides some more flexibility of things and the opportunity to get productive guys close to the quarterback. Any time you can do that, that’s great.”
Eifert has been known to line up in a number of different spots — as many as six. He has to be a pretty smart guy to be able to have the understanding that requires:
ML: “Oh yeah. He’s very smart, a very intelligent football player. He does a lot of good things. He’s an impressive kid. I spent time with him in Indianapolis, and these guys (assistant coaches) spent time with him on campus at Notre Dame as well.”
It seems like he led the country in contested catches. It seems like when the ball is in the air, it’s his:
JG: “That’s the thing about a tight end, you’re going to have to make contested plays, and he’s proven he can do that. He’s got like a 35-inch vertical (measured vertical leap at the NFL combine). So he’s got a great catch radius, which is important for that position because the lanes aren’t always that big. Especially in the red zone. Tight windows. Contested catches are a must for a great tight end. You look at Gronkowski (New England TE Rob Gronkowski) and all of the catches he makes, and Jermaine with some of the catches he’s made in the past. It’s very important, and a great weapon to have.”
Eifert at Gresham are both pretty versatile. How can they complement each other and allow you to open up the playbook?
JG: “It adds another weapon. Whether you have two tight ends in the game at a time, or three possibly. It creates problems for defenses — that personnel group — because they want to leave their base defense on the field, so you get him matched up with a linebacker, most likely. He’s a very fluid route-runner, great in space, and very good after the catch. It’ll be fun tinkering with some things with Tyler. We’ve got to bring him along slowly and install the playbook very slowly with him so he gets a good feel for it, and we’ll branch off as we go along. But it’s another great weapon to have, obviously, along with Jermaine and A.J. (Green) and Mohamed Sanu, and with the way some of the other guys were coming along last year. It’s a very exciting time here offensively.”
Coach Hayes, you worked a lot individually with Eifert at his pro day, on things like balance and power. What are your impressions of him as a blocker? JH: “The good thing about Tyler right now is his athleticism. He has good base and balance, and he can recover. Is he going to knock someone off the ball and be that type of guy? Not early in his career. But the good thing he does have is athleticism, so he can sustain and stay with people and stay on his feet and run with them. Jay always gives me a hard time about how I do push-pull (balance drill) on guys, and he says I got after Tyler on tape. It looked like it anyway (laughs).”
Jay you like your receivers to line up everywhere and this kid, he fits that mold. I saw him line up; it’s like Where’s Waldo? — it’s where’s Eifert, isn’t it? He’s everywhere out in formations, it seems:
JG: “Yeah, we’ve split Jermaine out before, and to have another guy who can do that is very important. We were a little nervous last year (as) Jermaine, something happened to Jermaine, and we were a little nervous. Orson (Charles) was coming along, but we need another tight end. You’ve got to have two very good tight ends and three at some point — we’ve got Alex Smith also — and we feel great about our tight end situation now. The more you can do, the more they can line up, the more places they can line up, the better. We just can’t lose sight of the fact we have (wide receiver) A.J. Green out there, and Jermaine and Orson and Alex Smith and all of them are going to be out there battling for jobs. They just have to take advantage of the reps when they get em. But Tyler’s a great, great athlete and we were just very fortunate that he fell to us.”
What about his smarts and his ability to line up in other positions?
JG: “Well, we’ll see. He went to Notre Dame, so he has to be kind of smart, I guess. I don’t know what the rules are for getting in there anymore, but he’s a smart kid and did great things at Notre Dame. But we’ll see. Some guys struggle coming from college to the NFL level with playbooks and learning to adapt to scheme and terminology. It might be the case, it might not. We’ll utilize him the best way we can, and Coach Hayes is one of the best tight end coaches in the league and he’ll get him ready, that’s for sure.
Given the Patriots success with (TEs Rob) Gronkowski and (Aaron) Hernandez, has that changed the way NFL teams look at tight ends?
JG: “I think it has a little bit, but there’s different ways to attack. You know, Green Bay doesn’t use two tight ends, (the) New Orleans Saints don’t do it a lot, so there’s a lot of teams that are successful without the two tight end attack. But that attack with A.J. and Mohammed Sanu can be very effective. Like I said, it keeps the base personnel on the field and you can create matchups favorably if you use it properly. Hopefully, we’ll get that done offensively and get him out there on the field as soon as possible. But still, you can’t discount the fact we have (wide receivers) Andrew Hawkins and Sanu. And we’ll bring him along gradually and if he picks it up, we’ll use him as best we can.”
As a former quarterback, you know when you’ve got big tight ends with a huge catch radius and you can dictate matchups, the tight ends can be a quarterback’s best friend. To have two guys like that potentially on the field, does that make for a happy quarterback?
JG: “Oh, no question. I’m sure Andy Dalton is happy right now. We try to make Andy happy, and the more weapons you have, obviously, the better. We need to take pressure off A.J. Green, and this is one step in doing that.”
Coach Hayes, a few picks before 21, when Tyler’s still on the board, being that position coach, do you start to think ‘Hmmm, my guy might be there a few picks from now’?
JH: “Well, first of all, it’s not ‘my’ guy, it’s ‘our’ guy. We have our board set the way we have it set, so we understand we have certain athletes picked for that area of the draft and if they fall to us, that’s where they fall. We were fortunate enough to get an excellent athlete, a guy that’s going to compete and push other people. And he’ll learn from Jermaine; that’s a good thing now. Jermaine has three years under his belt, going on his fourth year. Alex Smith has eight years under his belt, going on his ninth year. Orson’s got a year. We’ve got guys in our room; this is just going to make us stronger. Like I said earlier, the competition will bring the best to the top anyway.”
With Jermaine, how do you think he will respond to the pressure (of having someone drafted so highly at his position)?
JH: “Just speaking for myself, I don’t think it’s about the pressure. I think that regardless whether Tyler was here or not, you’ve got to go play, and the only way you take pressure off yourself is going out there and preparing and then performing. The rest of it, that’s the external stuff and you can’t pay attention to it anyway.”
Competition brings excellence in performance, so it’s good to have a guy pushing a guy both ways:
JG: “I don’t think Jermaine has a lot to worry about; Jermaine’s our starting tight end. And Tyler’s going to come in here and add another element with the two tight end package or three tight end package, what have you and be a good solid backup for us and be a steady player for a lot of years here. He’s a great player, we’ll see how he develops and how much we use him is (just) how much we use him. You know, everyone should be pushing themselves anyway. Jermaine should be working to get better whether we drafted Eifert or some slappy from New Haven. Jermaine should be pushing himself, and that’s the way our offense has been run and that’s the way our guys work in the room. That’s what’s great about our offense — we struggled at the end of the year, but it’s not because these guys don’t work hard. They work extremely hard, and we’re all excited to get back on the field, add a few pieces to the puzzle, continue to push ’em and hopefully we’ll take that next step next year.”