The Curious Case Of Clay Harbor

Clay Harbor was out of breath.

The Eagles tight end was one of the last players off the practice field Thursday afternoon. As he walked toward the locker room, Harbor was met by reporters and knew the questions that were coming his way.

The Eagles have shown interest in Visanthe Shiancoe and Jeremy Shockey this week. The implication is pretty clear: Find someone to push Harbor for the No. 2 tight-end spot behind Brent Celek.

“If anything, it just motivates you more,” Harbor said, doing his best to say the right things. “I mean, competition is competition. You get competition in the National Football League all the time.”

Harbor played about 33.6 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps last year, according to Pro Football Focus. And the Eagles went with two tight-end sets on about 30 percent of their plays, according to Football Outsiders.

Here’s a look at how Harbor’s snaps broke down:

Receiver – 32%
Run blocker – 56%
Pass blocker – 12%

As you can see, he only went out into a pass route 32 percent of the time. That’s fewer than eight times per game. So it’s not a huge surprise that Harbor finished the season with just 13 catches for 163 yards.

“I felt like last season I played pretty well,” Harbor said. “I probably had about 15 balls thrown to me last year. I feel like I had a decent season, but I do need to improve, show the coaches that I can do more things and gain their trust a little more and maybe be a bigger part of the offense.

“It’s hard to get on the field when you’ve got three great receivers like DeSean [Jackson], Jeremy [Maclin] and Jason Avant,” Harbor said. “Every play, it’s two tight ends or three receivers, it’s probably Jason Avant or me on the field. With a guy as good as him, most teams don’t have a guy as seasoned and great on third down, great hands, just everything that Jason brings, the intangibles to the team. You want to put a guy like that on the field all the time.”

Harbor makes a good point. A simple point, but a good one.

If the Eagles decide they want to go to more two tight-end sets, that means less playing time for either Avant or LeSean McCoy. McCoy played more snaps than any running back in the NFL last season and scored 20 touchdowns. The Eagles might look to spell him a little more in 2012, but things get tougher for the offense when he’s not on the field.

And Avant set career highs with 52 catches and 679 yards last season.

The point is this: It’s tough to figure out what exactly the Eagles want out of that second tight-end spot. The numbers from last year suggest they could use a good blocker. Harbor was up and down in that aspect of his game, but then again, Shiancoe is not considered much of a blocker either, and the Eagles took a serious look at him.

Either way, it would not surprise anyone to see the Eagles bring in another veteran tight end in the next week or two. And if Harbor ends up making the team, chances are he may have to settle for a role similar to the one he played last season.

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