Finding a Role For Harbor
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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.