Jonathan Hayes, an NFL tight end for 12 seasons, returns in 2015 for his 13th year as Bengals tight ends coach.
Hayes has a big assignment in 2015, with third-year pro Tyler Eifert moving into the No. 1 TE spot and a number of new candidates for additional time at the position. The Bengals in recent seasons have made frequent use of two-TE sets, and this season the club has two draft choices at TE (third-rounder Tyler Kroft and fifth-rounder C.J. Uzomah), plus college free agent candidates.
Also in the mix with Hayes this season is second-year pro Ryan Hewitt, whose position designation is H-back, a hybrid role incorporating tight end and fullback duties. Hayes worked extensively with Hewitt last season and helped him quickly develop into one of the Bengals’ most productive college free agent signees of recent years. Hewitt played in every game (11 starts), catching 10 passes and helping Cincinnati rank sixth in the NFL in rushing (134.2) and third in fewest sacks allowed (23).
Hayes’ plans for 2014 were dealt a blow in the season opener, when Eifert suffered an elbow injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season. Veteran Jermaine Gresham (not re-signed as a free agent for 2015) went on to have a fourth straight productive Bengals season, but the Eifert injury kept the Bengals from fully building on what had been an historic ’13 season for Cincinnati TEs.
In 2013, both Gresham and Eifert were in the starting base offense, the first Bengals base to feature two tight ends. They combined for 85 catches for 903 yards and six TDs, and with the contribution that season of veteran Alex Smith, the Bengals had 88 catches and 915 yards by TEs. The reception total was the most in Bengals history for the position, topping 84 in 1981, and the yardage total ranked third, behind only 1091 in ’81 and 1012 in ’84.
In 2013, Gresham just missed joining Hall of Famer Mike Ditka as the only NFL tight ends to catch 50 or more passes in each of their first four seasons. Gresham had 46 catches entering the season finale, but he was declared inactive to rehab a hamstring strain.
Eifert had 39 catches for 445 yards and two TDs in his rookie season, and much more is expected under Hayes’ continued direction.
Over Hayes’ tenure, his tight ends have contributed to run-blocking efforts that have produced eight 1000-yard rushers, including an 1124-yard season last year by rookie Jeremy Hill. Hill led the NFL in rushing over the season’s last nine games.
The tight ends under Hayes also have contributed to pass blocking efforts that twice helped Cincinnati set a club record for fewest sacks allowed. A record of 21 was set in 2005, and that mark was re-written at 17 in ’07. Last season, the Bengals ranked third in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed (23).
Prior to joining the Bengals, Hayes spent four years (1999-2002) at the University of Oklahoma as tight ends coach and special teams coordinator. He helped the Sooners to a four-year record of 44-9, including a 13-0 mark in 2000 for the NCAA championship.
Under Hayes’ tutelage, tight end Trent Smith finished his Oklahoma career in 2002 as the school’s No. 2 all-time receiver, with 148 catches. Also in ’02, Sooners special teams blocked seven kicks and had three punt returns for TDs.
Hayes began his NFL playing career in 1985 with the Kansas City Chiefs, as a second-round draft pick out of Iowa. He played for the Chiefs through 1993, serving as a team captain, and closed his NFL career with three seasons in Pittsburgh (‘94-96). He had 153 career receptions for 1718 yards with 13 TDs.
He saw action in 184 NFL games with 122 starts, and he played all 16 games in each of his final six seasons. He played in three AFC Championship games and a Super Bowl (for Pittsburgh vs. Dallas in SB XXX).
At the University of Iowa, he earned first-team All-America honors as a senior TE and was a team captain. He holds a degree from Iowa in general studies.
Hayes’ older brother, Jay, is Bengals defensive line coach.
Hayes’ hometown is South Fayette, Pa. He attended South Fayette High School. He and his wife have four children.
Playing and coaching history: 1981-84—Played linebacker and tight end, Iowa. 1985-93—Played tight end, Kansas City Chiefs. 1994-96—Played tight end, Pittsburgh Steelers. 1999-2002—Assistant coach (AC), Oklahoma. 2003-present—AC, Cincinnati Bengals.