PITTSBURGH -- Ben Roethlisberger is well-known for his ability to make something out of nothing on the field, improvising in and out of the pocket to gain yardage.

Apparently the Steelers quarterback takes the same approach with the pounds per square inch of NFL footballs -- he simply works with what he's given.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar"People ask me all the time what our PSI is," Ben Roethlisberger said. "I have no idea. Whatever they put it at, I play with it."

The Deflategate controversy, which sparked an NFL investigation, a four-game suspension for Tom Brady and a $1 million fine for the Patriots, has shifted more focus than normal to how quarterbacks prefer to hold and throw their footballs. Baltimore's Joe Flacco, for example, asks the the Ravens' football staff to "rub the balls down in a certain way."

Roethlisberger said he makes no requests for football alteration.

"People ask me all the time what our PSI is," he said. "I have no idea. Whatever they put it at, I play with it."

Roethlisberger said the footballs always feel great when staffers hand them to him. For all Roethlisberger knows, those footballs could have been dropped from 30,000 feet before they reach his hands.

"I am not even one that messes with the balls before the games to see which ones I like," he said. "I just go play."

This seems like a unique approach (or non-approach?) for a quarterback who's played 11 NFL seasons. Perhaps Roethlisberger's 6-foot-5, 241-pound frame plays into his impartiality. He's used to overpowering the ball with size.

Roethlisberger's comment about the Steelers/Patriots matchup in Week 1 being "not the same" without Brady applies to more than on-field matchups. It applies to each quarterback's stance on football size.

CINCINNATI -- OK, file this under "we probably already knew this," but in an exercise conducted this week by ESPN Insider Mike Sando, Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was ranked as having the least-player-friendly contract among current quarterbacks who aren't on rookie deals.

To go along with another column that published earlier in the week, Sando on Friday ranked veteran quarterback deals based upon how appealing they were from a player standpoint. He took out Pro Bowlers Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, who recently adjusted their contracts in team-friendly ways. So, discounting them and the starters who are still on rookie deals, there were 15 to rank among the pool of quarterbacks.

Where did Dalton check in out of those 15 signal-callers?

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
AP Photo/Michael ConroyAndy Dalton's contract is big, but very team-friendly if the Bengals wish to part ways with their quarterback.

That's right. Fifteenth.

The rankings came from a combination of factors. Sando took into account each deal's overall average per year (APY), the three-year APY associated with them, true, non-injury-only guarantees, and a variety of factors based upon his conversations with agents and team contract negotiators. As a result, this is a completely subjective ranking. The value of Dalton's deal might not actually be as bad as it appears, but like Sando said, "the cap charges associated with his deal appear unlikely to force the Bengals back to the table."

The way the six-year, up-to-$115-million deal was structured last August, the Bengals are able to walk away from the quarterback each offseason beginning next March if his performance doesn't meet the team's expectations. Each year Dalton is a Bengal, it becomes easier for the Bengals financially to separate themselves from the quarterback.

Next season, for example, the Bengals get a cap savings of $5.9 million if Dalton is released. If he were to be released right now -- a hypothetical that never will occur -- they wouldn't get a cap savings, nor would they take a cap hit. In 2017, though, they will receive a cap savings of $10.9 million of Dalton is let go. Each year that number increases until it hits $17.7 million at the end of the deal in 2020.

It's a structure like that, not to mention the additional escalators that are tied to Dalton's performance, that makes it appear the Bengals have little incentive to negotiate a third contract with Dalton. At this point, he would have to rattle off a string of Pro Bowl seasons and multiple years with playoff victories to likely warrant a more favorable deal in the next five years. Given his play at the start of his career -- inconsistent, yet good enough to make the playoffs four years in a row -- it's hard for now seeing Dalton post the type of numbers that put him at the top of this list in 2020, instead of at the bottom.

As Sando mentioned here, the problem with having pay-as-you-play contracts like Dalton's is that teams must have legitimate replacements squared away when they are ready to make that change. Cincinnati doesn't currently have that on its roster, even if coaches are encouraged by AJ McCarron's potential and Terrelle Pryor's athleticism and desire.

NFL teams do not win by signing and paying millions of dollars to players to be mentors.

It’s the pros. Players have to assume the mantle of professionalism and act accordingly. They will help each other, certainly. But it’s a very rare occasion when a player is signed simply as a mentor.

So it’s wise to consider that Josh McCown is not the Cleveland Browns quarterback because he’s a mentor to Johnny Manziel. He’s the quarterback because the Browns believe that with a strong defense and good running game, it can win games by not asking McCown to do too much.

The Browns believe they are a better team this season with defensive improvements, with run-game improvements and with McCown.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
AP Photo/David RichardJosh McCown said nobody on the Browns has talked to him about being a mentor, but that personality trait is evident.

Many disagree.

That will play out.

But at this point, the team is not counting on Manziel to start. If he plays well enough to seize the job, that will be a bonus. If he plays well once he seizes the job, that’s a bonus with a slice of banana on top.

But way back in February, coach Mike Pettine said this of McCown: “We would not have brought him here if we didn’t feel that [he could win].” And this: “We’re not just looking to bring in a guy to be a leader and a mentor.”

Think about it. The Browns have gone through starting quarterbacks like mad recently, using at least two in each of the past five seasons, and three in three of them. Suddenly they’re gonna sacrifice one of those roster spots for a quasi-coach?

It’s just not reality.

McCown even said at OTAs last week that nobody with the team — front office or coaching staff — has talked to him about mentoring. It’s all been about playing and winning.

The thing is, though, that McCown can help other players, and he does so willingly.

“That’s just who he is,” Pettine said. “He doesn’t know any different.”

That is what matters. It’s simply his personality to act that way, while at the same time competing to play.

“When you’re part of a team,” McCown said, “you serve and help the guys around you.”

It doesn’t mean that other guys aren’t helping as well; it just means that McCown’s personality leads him that way.

“Throughout life, when you can give away something or you can teach something, that to me is the next step of mastering something,” he said.

It certainly can’t hurt Manziel to be around a guy like McCown. But Manziel was around plenty of pros last season and he struggled, on and off the field. His growth and development will come because he puts in the time and effort, not because McCown’s personality lends itself to helping. McCown becomes a bonus if Manziel’s attitude is anchored properly.

The Browns saw McCown’s approach as a bonus to what they wanted.

That was a guy they believed could win games with a strong cast around him.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens played the New England Patriots in the postseason game before "Deflategate" erupted, and it was only a matter of time before quarterback Joe Flacco was asked if he's particular about the inflation of his footballs.

"Do I have to comment on that?" Flacco asked while cracking a smile.

It was a little over two weeks ago when the NFL suspended Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady without pay for the first four games of the season, fined the Patriots $1 million and took away two draft picks as punishment for deflating footballs used in the AFC title game.

"Listen, everybody likes the football their way," Flacco said. "That’s why I make sure our guys rub the balls down in a certain way -- have them rub a couple balls down and make sure I like it -- and once they have the ball the way I like it, I trust them to do that from that point forward.”

According to a high-ranking team source, there is no equipment staffer on the Ravens with the nickname "The Rub-ator."

CINCINNATI -- How will the Cincinnati Bengals' rushing attack look this season?

That's one of the more intriguing offseason questions considering how well Jeremy Hill played as a rookie last year.

As 2014 wore on and the injuries mounted in the Bengals' pass-catching ranks, more and more responsibility was placed on Hill's shoulders. Giovani Bernard's health issues contributed to Hill's increased opportunities too. Hill responded well to the expanded role, pacing the NFL in yards gained on the ground the final nine weeks of the season.

In May, in the middle of his first true NFL offseason, Hill is optimistic he will perform even better this year. But with a fully healthy Bernard and a passing attack that's now significantly healthier, he may not be the workhorse back many in Who Dey Nation want him to be.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsThe Bengals leaned heavily on Jeremy Hill down the stretch last season, but that may not be the plan for 2015.

"Obviously there's going to be a balanced attack," Hill said, referencing what he thought offensive coordinator Hue Jackson's plans were for the running game. "I don't think he's got to wear either one of us out, so that way we can make it through all 16 games for a playoff push."

Jackson began last season placing a heavier emphasis on Bernard. Hill was still in his first couple of months on the job as an NFL player, and the coach wanted to bring him along slowly. As well as Hill might have played in training camp, Jackson knew he needed him in peak form by the middle of the season.

Before injuries sidelined Bernard for three games starting in Week 9, he got the bulk of the snaps, carries and passes out of the backfield. According to ESPN Stats & Information, he had 296 snaps through the first eight weeks compared to Hill's 135. Bernard also ran the ball 109 times compared to Hill's 50.

Bernard averaged 15.6 carries and 42.3 snaps per game before Week 9. Hill averaged 7.1 carries and 19.3 snaps. Starting in Week 9, that totally changed.

Hampered by a series of injuries, Bernard only appeared in six games during the last half of the regular season. Across the final nine weeks, Bernard's rushing and participation averages plummeted. He had only 9.8 carries and 30.8 snaps per game in the last half of the year. Hill, meanwhile, nearly tripled the number of times per game he carried the football, and doubled his average snap counts.

"As the year went on, [Jackson] learned our strengths and our weaknesses," Hill said.

Hill's strengths late last season involved breaking timely long runs for touchdowns. Bernard's included playing cleanly. While Hill had five fumbles last season, Bernard had none.

In the latter half of last season, three games best exemplified the balance Jackson may be seeking: Week 13 at Tampa Bay, Week 15 at Cleveland and Week 16 versus Denver.

During those games, Hill and Bernard combined for 5.06 yards per carry. In two of them, the Browns game and the Broncos game, Hill rushed for more than 140 yards. It was also in the 30-0 win over the Browns that Bernard had 79 yards on the ground.

When one running back struggled in those games, the other typically picked up the offense some other way. For example, in the 14-13 win at Tampa Bay, Hill barely hit the 40-yard rushing mark. He ultimately caught four passes to make up for it. In that same game, Bernard only had one catch but averaged 4.9 yards per carry.

"We want to lift ourselves to the next level and earn the respect of this league," Hill said. "We have the guys in the [running back] room to do that."

Almost three more months to see just how balanced that attack will be.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith is still recovering from foot surgery and is supposed to wear a red jersey to warn teammates to steer clear of him.

The problem is Smith has the special jersey tucked into the band of his shorts during Thursday's organized team activity.

"I think that tells you where his mind is at," coach John Harbaugh said.

Smith didn't participate in full team drills, but he showed aggressiveness when he was on the field for seven-on-sevens. He timed a throw to Kamar Aiken and nearly wrestled the ball away from the wide receiver.

It's not the type of physical play you'd expect from a cornerback who was being limited in OTAs after missing the final eight games of the regular season. Harbaugh had been noncommittal this offseason when asked about Smith's return, and Smith declined to say when he would be fully recovered after signing his four-year, $48 million extension in April.

"I saw a little competitive streak today," Harbaugh said. "I tried to remind him that he's got the red jersey. He won't put it on."

By the way Smith was moving, it looks like he is on track for the start of training cam at the end of July. That's good news for a secondary that allowed the fewest touchdown passes in the NFL last season when Smith was in the starting lineup (seven TD passes allowed in eight games).

"He's not full speed but he's out there working hard," Harbaugh said. "He is probably ahead of schedule."

Perhaps the bigger surprise for the secondary was seeing safety Terrence Brooks on the field. The Ravens expected Brooks to start the season on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament on Dec. 14, and that still could happen.

Brooks, a third-round pick from a year ago, didn't practice but he wore a helmet and didn't show any signs of a limp when moving at jogging the length of the field. He could provide more depth to the safety position and special teams sooner than expected.

"Terrence Brooks is doing really well," Harbaugh said. "No predictions right now. But he looks good. He's worked hard."

CINCINNATI -- Just before free agency began in March, ESPN Insider and former Tampa Bay Buccaneers general manager Mark Dominik praised Ndamukong Suh for being the biggest-name free agent since Reggie White.

Apparently, that got him thinking.

Who were the other players in the league who could warrant consideration as a "32-team free agent?" That is to say, who else in the NFL would be similarly coveted by every single team and still be worth the investment from both a financial and off-field perspective?

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesA.J. Green is considered a valuable receiver, both by the Bengals and former Bucs GM Mark Dominik.

Dominik on Thursday published a list of 24 namesInsider who he believed could be a Suh-like free agent that every team in the league would be willing to pay if it had the money.

A.J. Green appeared on the list.

The Cincinnati Bengals' receiver was praised by Dominik for his ability to run downfield and make difficult catches that other wideouts might struggle corralling. A four-time Pro Bowler, Green certainly has the pedigree to back up his status as a 32-team free agent. He has had more than 1,000 yards receiving every year of his career, including last season, when injuries plagued him and forced him to miss parts of six games.

To make Dominik's list, players couldn't have major durability or red flags that might cause multiple teams to rule out signing them. The players also had to have the ability to perform in any team's scheme. With West Coast -- or, as people in this part of the country are apt to call former Bengals assistant Bill Walsh's scheme, Ohio River -- offenses the rage in the league, Green definitely fits multiple offensive systems.

It's important to note Dominik's list is purely hypothetical. While Green may actually privately be coveted by every team in the league, there is no reason to think he would actually sign elsewhere next offseason.

Green enters this season on his fifth-year option, and will be making $10.2 million before becoming eligible for free agency next spring. He and the Bengals have both reiterated how they want to keep him in stripes, but all parties involved have plenty of time to get a new deal done.

If linebacker Vontaze Burfict was healthy and hadn't been hurt last season (he had microfracture surgery in January), he might be another Bengal to consider for this list. While he's best suited as a Will linebacker in a 4-3 system, it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't be effective as an inside linebacker in a 3-4. Burfict simply knows one thing when he's on the field: run to wherever the football is. Considering he was an undrafted free agent who got a nice pay bump when he signed an extension last August, Burfict certainly would be within the price range for other teams.

One other Bengal could draw consideration from Dominik in future seasons. Second-year running back Jeremy Hill performed well as a feature back late his rookie season. His pass-blocking is improving and he can catch passes, as well. With no red flags nor injury concerns, one has to think countless other teams would want to sign him one day in the future, too.

BEREA, Ohio - Say this for new Cleveland Browns quarterback Josh McCown: He is one tough Texan.

One of the stories that proves it illustrates why offensive coordinator John DeFilippo was so insistent on acquiring McCown as a free agent.

McCown was a member of the 2007 Oakland Raiders and DeFilippo was quarterbacks coach. In the week leading up to a game against Denver, McCown dislocated his left pinky finger catching passes from Andrew Walter after practice.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsJosh McCown has earned a tough-guy reputation.

It was so bad the bone came through McCown’s skin.

“They had to tape these two together,” McCown said of his left ring and pinky finger. "… They fixed it, but I thought, ‘I’m not playing anyway.’”

The Raiders had Daunte Culpepper, JaMarcus Russell and Walter ahead of McCown.

But Culpepper pulled his hamstring running after practice.

“They didn’t want to start Jamarcus, and I went from four to one in the span of two days,” McCown said.

He still doesn’t know why he “leapfrogged” Walter, but he did.

With a dislocated finger and with one day of practice, McCown started against the Broncos.

“I practiced Friday, start and we beat Denver,” he said. “It was the dangedest thing.”

At this point, McCown laughs at the memory of the 34-20 victory in which McCown went 14-for-21 for 141 yards.

“I threw three touchdowns,” he said with a tone and laugh that indicated he is still amazed it happened. “It was the dangedest thing. I didn’t even practice.”

How did he manage?

“They shot it up, taped it up and they were like, ‘It’s your left pinky,’” McCown said.

That wasn't the only time McCown played with injury. Last season he missed five games with a torn ligament in his right thumb. He returned in November and played the final eight games.

“The ligament was torn off the bone of my thumb,” he said.

How did he play?

“Once you get rolling … you get into the game,” he said. “I really think it’s a little bit mind over matter. Typically, the energy and juice of the game gets you over it.”

Two things can be said about these McCown anecdotes:

  • He is one tough quarterback, and …
  • Any guy who uses the word “dangedest” twice to describe a game has to be OK.

Wide receiver Michael Campanaro injured his quadriceps during the Baltimore Ravens' first organized team activity of the year, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Wednesday's OTA was closed to reporters, and a Ravens spokesman said the team will not give any reports from the workout. The severity of the injury is unknown, The Sun reported.

Campanaro is considered one of the leading candidates to return kicks for the Ravens, although the Ravens have been noncommittal in naming Jacoby Jones' successor. One reason is the Ravens want Campanaro to prove he can stay healthy before relying on him for a significant role. So, it's not a good sign that he couldn't get past the first day of OTAs.

Other options for the Ravens in the return game include undrafted rookie DeAndre Carter, cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Lardarius Webb and wide receiver Breshad Perriman.

Last year, Campanaro was limited in OTAs because of a hamstring injury and missed seven of the last eight regular-season games because of another hamstring issue. When he was healthy, Campanaro showed flashes as a slot receiver and finished with seven catches for 102 yards and one touchdown as a rookie. In the divisional playoff loss at New England, he caught all three passes thrown his way for 39 yards.

Campanaro is expected to compete against Marlon Brown and Kamar Aiken for the No. 3 wide receiver spot.

This injury is the latest setback for a player who had durability issues coming out of Wake Forest because of his small build. The Ravens wanted Campanaro so much late in the 2014 draft that they traded a 2015 sixth-round pick to Cleveland in order to acquire the Browns' seventh-round selection, which they used to take Campanaro. A hometown product, Campanaro played high school football at River Hill in Columbia, Maryland, which is 23 miles from M&T Bank Stadium.

PITTSBURGH -- With the defense losing a combined 60 years of experience and the offense losing an explosive playmaker for three games, the Pittsburgh Steelers created a new-era theme for this offseason.

Ike Taylor, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Dick LeBeau ... all gone.

Le'Veon Bell ... gone, at least until Week 4, leading the way for backup DeAngelo Williams.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarQB Ben Roethlisberger said the Steelers should continue their 2014 offensive game plan and use it going forward.

Though the change narrative is a convenient one, not much feels different at Steelers' organized team activities. Key offensive and defensive players don't sound eager to change much of anything. The offense returns its entire lineup intact. The offensive line has been together for years.

Ben Roethlisberger acknowledges "there aren't a lot of old guys around anymore," but he attributes that to natural business turnover more than systematic overhauls.

In fact, Roethlisberger wants 2014 to be the blueprint. When asked about his preference for offensive balance between deep passes and Todd Haley's signature short-route passes, Roethlisberger said, "exactly what we did last year."

"I haven't changed my game at all," Roethlisberger said. "I think when you call plays that are shorter routed plays -- Bruce Arians was known to go down the field and take shots. So you are going to have to hold onto the ball. We call a lot of plays that get the ball out quick to receivers. Todd Haley's offense is a lot about catching the ball, running, and putting up yards after the catch. So I think that's what it is more than me changing or anyone changing. [Quarterbacks coach] Randy [Fichtner] does a great job of coaching. I get the ball out and guys make plays."

Surely the backfield passing game will change without Bell, right? He's coming off an 85-catch season.

Offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert doesn't think so.

"[Williams] did a lot of the same stuff in Carolina," Gilbert said. "He was one of the best backs in the NFL."

Williams' highest reception total in a season with Carolina was 33. He's capable, but he's not Bell in this area.

Intrigue persists over whether new defensive coordinator Keith Butler will tweak the Steelers' trusted 3-4 defense. Two days of OTAs aren't enough to reveal changes. Not that cornerback William Gay expects any movement there.

"We've been running the same defense since I got here," said Gay, who's played seven of his eight NFL seasons with Pittsburgh. "We don't need to change nothing."

Gilbert can identify one change -- the offensive line is becoming a team strength. The rushing offense jumped from 27th to 16th last season, and starters have expressed goals to crack the top 10.

Gilbert takes that further.

"We should be the best offensive line in the NFL," Gilbert said.

Now that would be a change.

Pro Bowl safety Tashaun Gipson was the most noticeably absent player as the Cleveland Browns started offseason on-field work on Tuesday.

All work is voluntary, so no player’s presence is required.

Gipson's absence is not a surprise. He did not sign the restricted free agent contract tendered him by the Browns because he was not pleased the team made a second-round offer as opposed to a first-round offer. The second-round tender saved the Browns and cost Gipson just short of $1 million.

Because Gipson is unsigned, he could miss all of the offseason work and training camp without being fined.

If Gipson does not sign by June 15, the Browns have the right to reduce their offer to 110 pecent of Gipson’s 2014 salary — or $627,000.

Doing so would be a decision that is worse than the one to not offer the first-round tender. The Browns decided on the second-round tender when the team had almost $50 million in salary cap space; it still has $24.4 million, according to ESPN's Roster Management System.

Clearly the best option is to work out a long-term deal. Soon.

Gipson is working out on his own, and he does remain engaged with teammates and continues to show his support for the team. He tweeted a photo of the OTAs on Tuesday, then added this toward the end of the day:

PITTSBURGH -- Markus Wheaton can envision himself as primarily an inside receiver for the Steelers, and that vision is harmonious.

He sees a "two-man game," with Antonio Brown on one side and Wheaton on the other. Both of those receivers have the capability to lure a safety.

"The middle will be wide open," said Wheaton, the Steelers' third-year receiver. "That will be a benefit for me."

[+] EnlargeMarcus Wheaton
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsSteelers receiver Markus Wheaton made 53 catches last season.

The Steelers have not labeled Wheaton the primary slot receiver. To be sure, Wheaton played outside and inside "evenly" last year, he said. He likes both spots and isn't sure what's going to happen.

But the Steelers' positional depth is such that Wheaton inside makes too much sense, especially with his 5-foot-11 frame and quick feet. Bryant and rookie Sammie Coates are natural outside guys. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley's offense places a premium on the short passing game.

Wheaton's 644-yard performance last year was emblematic of the Steelers' success with the "other guys" in the passing game. Brown will always get his yards, but the Steelers' offense took off in the final eight weeks as Ben Roethlisberger averaged 322 yards per game, when Wheaton, Bryant and Lance Moore had enhanced roles.

"I wouldn't mind it," said Wheaton of the slot. "I like the outside, too. I like football."

That means he likes the ball. And playing the slot means getting it.

Wheaton has noticed the evolution of the position over the years, how slot receivers can rack up receptions with a good quarterback. Look no further than New England's Julian Edelman and Green Bay's Randall Cobb, who each surpassed 90 catches last year.

"That’s where a lot of balls are thrown, short routes," Wheaton said. "I think those guys on the inside do end up having a lot of catches. Definitely a lot of catches intrigues everybody. Everybody wants the ball."

The Steelers would be foolish not to use Wheaton on the outside in certain situations. In November, Wheaton burned Ravens corner Lardarius Webb on a 47-yard touchdown, a go route by the sideline that Webb played perfectly, but simply couldn't catch up. Wheaton was clocked at 4.45 seconds in the 40-yard dash coming out of Oregon State.

Wheaton's other touchdown last season was an 18-yarder against zone coverage against the Colts, when he lined up next to the tight end in a bunch formation and cut toward the sideline.

Wheaton finally started to feel comfortable in the offense last year. His goal for this offseason is to erase any doubts about what he's doing on the field, whether that's playing inside or outside.

"I want to be 100 percent comfortable with everything we're doing," Wheaton said.

The Baltimore Ravens made a couple of moves involving undrafted linebackers on Wednesday, cutting Alabama's Trey DePriest and re-signing Rhode Island's Andrew Bose.

Bose returns to the Ravens after being waived to make room for cornerback Kyle Arrington just 13 days ago. He was initially signed by the Ravens on May 12 after a tryout during rookie minicamp.

A three-year starter at Rhode Island, Bose finished with 295 tackles in his career, including 125 last season. He also had 4.5 sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception last year.

DePriest was a first-team All-SEC linebacker who was considered a hard-hitter but had limited range.

The other 15 undrafted rookies still on the Ravens' 90-man roster: OL Darryl Baldwin, OLB Brennen Beyer, WR Daniel Brown, G Leon Brown, WR DeAndre Carter, OL Blaine Clausell, OL Nick Easton, OL Kaleb Johnson, QB Jerry Lovelocke, RB Terrence Magee, P/K Justin Manton, S Nick Perry, OL De'Ondre Wesley, WR Cam Worthy, CB Julian Wilson (injured).

CINCINNATI -- Tyler Eifert learned a valuable yet costly lesson on the very first day of organized team activities (OTAs) last May.

Stay on your feet.

Instinctively, the Cincinnati Bengals tight end dove to the ground during the offseason workout trying to make a play that was better suited for Week 17 of the regular season. A split second after the dive, Eifert realized exactly why he shouldn't have done it.

Right after Eifert hit the ground, safety George Iloka, unable to slow his own momentum in time, fell on his teammate, tearing the labrum in Eifert's left shoulder in the process.

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
AP Photo/Nick WassBengals tight end Tyler Eifert is hoping to make it through OTAs healthy after an injury-plagued 2014.

Eifert's shoulder became pain-free for the first time since then just a few weeks ago. The year he effectively lost with an unrelated dislocated elbow and the shoulder's eventual surgery has Eifert approaching this year's OTAs much more carefully.

"It's your instinct [to dive]," Eifert said, asked about reaching for difficult passes, "but it's just not worth it in practice."

Eifert ended up taking just eight snaps last season. His year was cut short by the dislocated elbow at the end of a promising quarter in the season opener. On those eight snaps, Eifert caught three passes for 37 yards and had just put the Bengals in goal-line territory when he went down.

The recovery from the elbow injury took a little longer than originally expected, so once it appeared late last season that he might not get his conditioning back up in time to make much of a difference if he returned, he and the trainers decided it was best to place him on injured reserve and fix the shoulder once and for all. Before the December surgery, Eifert had fought through pain since last May in order to participate in limited capacity in various offseason and preseason practices. It was enough to get him to the opener before the elbow dislocation.

"It's going to make us better," Bengals offensive coordinator Hue Jackson said of Eifert's return this year.

In addition to getting back Eifert, who has been limited by injuries for much of his first two seasons, the Bengals also will have receiver Marvin Jones healthy again after his year-long layoff with foot and ankle issues. Receiver James Wright also will be back after spending the last few weeks of last season recovering from a knee injury suffered Week 13 at Tampa Bay.

While Eifert participated in OTAs Tuesday, he was limited to only 7-on-7 and 1-on-1 work. He didn't go through the 11-on-11 drills, allowing H-back Ryan Hewitt and rookies C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft, Matt Lengel, Jake Murphy and John Peters to get action.

"We're just kind of taking it day to day, just easing back into things," Eifert said. "My shoulder and elbow are cleared 100 percent, but I'm just getting back into things gradually.

"I'll be out there soon enough."

Given Eifert's scare last spring, this year is all about precaution for the Bengals. Offensive tackle Andre Smith, who is months removed from having a triceps surgically repaired, didn't participate in 11-on-11 activity Tuesday, either.

"We're out there going 100 percent, but we practice smart," Eifert said. "Coach [Marvin Lewis] always says we've got to get to the starting gate healthy but also get our work in at the same time. We're just being smart about it."

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