Finding a Role For Harbor

Philadelphia Eagles TE Clay Harbor.About an hour after many of the other Eagles players had headed inside, tight end Clay Harbor finally strolled off the field at Lehigh.

He had finished the special-teams portion of practice and went through his usual routine afterwards.

“Get at least 50 catches in,” Harbor said. “I try to walk through some of the routes I know I’m going to see in the later practice. Just get used to catching the ball coming out of those breaks. It really helps a lot. Building habits, seeing the same ball over and over again, it just becomes second nature and you don’t even think about it anymore.”

When camp first started, the Eagles showed interest in veteran tight ends Visanthe Shiancoe and Jeremy Shockey. Shiancoe signed with the Patriots, and Shockey remains a free agent.

Harbor, meanwhile, has had an outstanding camp, catching pretty much every ball thrown his way.

“Clay Harbor is having a superb camp,” offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. “He’s doing some things that are really uncommon, and he’s really grown into that position. He’s doing a fine job there.”

When asked what specifically Harbor has done well, Mornhinweg pointed out that his in-line blocking has “dramatically improved” from working all offseason with tight-ends coach Tom Melvin.

But the question of how the Eagles will use Harbor is still one that needs to be answered. Last year, he played about 33.6 percent of the offensive snaps, according to Pro Football Focus, and the Eagles went with two tight-end sets about 30 percent of the time, per the Football Outsiders Almanac.

Here’s a breakdown of he was used:

 
Receiver
Run Blocker
Pass Blocker
Clay Harbor32%56%12%

For Harbor to get on the field more, Mornhinweg and Andy Reid will have to find new ways to use him. Last year, Harbor lined up in the backfield at times. Perhaps he could see some snaps as a fullback this year?

“Probably not so much this year,” he said. “I’ll be more as a tight end. Stan Havili has really been impressing and showing how great of a fullback he’s capable of being. …I don’t think I’ll get many fullback reps with him in there this year.”

Mornhinweg seemed to agree.

“Clay and Brent have played in that position on several different types of plays,” he said. “But no, those are our two guys [Havili and Emil Igwenagu] competing at the fullback spot.”

The problem with Harbor is that using him means taking someone else on the field, whether it be LeSean McCoy, Jason Avant, DeSean Jackson or Jeremy Maclin.

“Absolutely,” Mornhinweg said, when asked if the Eagles could use more two tight-end sets. “If we’ve got two outstanding tight ends, we’ll use all of our players’ strengths, and that certainly can be one of them.”

One area where Harbor could see the field is in the red zone. The Eagles finished 14th in red-zone efficiency last year, scoring touchdowns 51.52 percent of the time. Yesterday, Harbor took a shovel pass into the end zone for a score during practice. But last year, he was targeted just 19 times overall, coming up with 13 catches for 163 yards and a touchdown. Only one catch (the TD) came in the red zone.

“I feel like we could create some mismatch problems in the red zone, blocking-wise or receiving-wise,” Harbor said. “If a team wants to match with you to a nickel in the red zone or anywhere on the field, you can really overmatch that defensive back, and if they try to stay in a regular-type formation, then you have a linebacker trying to guard you. I feel like that could be a mismatch problem in our favor in the receiving game.”

It’s definitely worth a shot, when you consider the Eagles’ usual personnel. DeSean Jackson is capable of scoring anywhere on the field, except for perhaps the red zone. He had just two catches (one TD) inside the opponents’ 20 last year, and four catches for 8 yards and a score the year before.

If Harbor continues to impress the coaches and shows he can be reliable as a blocker and productive as a receiver, using him in the red zone might be the best way to get him on the field more.

Follow Sheil Kapadia on Twitter and e-mail him at skapadia@phillymag.com.

  • Anders

    Encouraging to read that Havlii is doing great. Hope we get to see it in the next pre season game

    • ctburesch

      I would rather have
      Emil Igwenagu get the FB nod, then can also give depth at TE. Seems some teams are eliminating the fullback position anyway. Would much rather keep more Dline guys or deep at WR, than a guy like Havili who is only a FB

      • Anders

        Havlii is a much better pass catcher then Igwenagu, so Havlii should be able to play that H-Back role you are describing.

  • PaoliBulldog

    Hope Harbor continues to improve. I wish the Eagles would use more two-tight end sets. I wanted the Eagles to draft Brandon Pettigrew in 2009; while Maclin has been good and may someday be great, I thought at the time that having two stud tight ends would be a good thing. And Bill Belichick agrees with me!

  • http://twitter.com/taymgates Taylor

    I watch eagles camp every day and Havili has not stood out in camp at all.. He was getting a few reps running the ball early in camp but that has seem to have stopped and Lewis, Brown & Polk are getting all the reps behind McCoy..We all know that Marty does not talk bad AT ALL about his player in interviews. He always responds with “they look great.. even fantastic… very promising players..” This guy is not going to give you the same in-sight like Washburn does about his players.. Second when watching Havili on one on one blocking drills, when fullback & Running-backs take on Linebackers Havili has not stood out.. Igwenagu has stood out in blocking… Lewis & Polk have shown better promise taking on linebackers then Havili.. This kid was given reps during the first couple days of practice running the ball, but with all the talent Brown & Polk bring behind Lewis (who kinda reminds me how McCoy was last season at training camp making everyone miss)… I don’t see this kid touching the ball much anymore.

    Harbor still is not blocking quite as well as I am sure the coaches want.. But I think he is blocking well enough to be effective. What I like about Harbor is his drive and willingness to spend time to get better and become a better route runner.. Also working on his hands and getting that ball in his hands every time we need a big body on third down and goal line.. Harbor is doing all the right things and looks good in camp catching quite a few balls from Vick and Kafka… Also good to see he has a little fight in him.. not easy taking on a 290 lb DT especially Landri who is out there to prove himself and just is a monster… One that note I think I am going to buy a Landri jersey