Monday, May 20, 2013

Eagles OTA report: Can versatility save Harbor?

PHILADELPHIA -Nat King Cole first sang about those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer back in the 1960s, but America has always been enamored with beach season.

Whether they're loading the kids into the minivan for a trip down the Jersey shore, fishing in the Florida Keys or driving down the Pacific Coast Highway with the top down, people all across the country see the summertime as a chance to recharge the batteries.

Football is generally off people's radar as the summer months approach. Baseball is just heating up, the Indy 500 and Coca-Cola 600 are Memorial Day traditions and the NBA Finals own June.

Behind the scenes, however, America's real passion -- professional football -- is still churning along, engrossed in preparation for the 2013 NFL season.

And dozens of veteran players don't have the time to enjoy a lazy day here and there. It's rise and grind every single day for the bubble player.

I caught up with one them at Eagles OTAs on Monday in South Philadelphia.

To most, the writing is on the wall and the die is cast for Eagles tight end Clay Harbor, a serviceable if nondescript backup to Brent Celek since arriving in the City of Brotherly Love as a fourth-round draft pick out of Missouri State in 2010.

Harbor was never the type of player Andy Reid was going to build around and he has spent nearly every summer fighting for his NFL life. Three years into his career, the 6-foot-3, 255-pounder has amassed 46 receptions for 421 yards and four touchdowns -- not exactly Tony Gonzalez-like numbers.

That said, despite his inconsistencies as a player, Harbor always had a leg up when it came to a roster spot when Reid called the NovaCare Complex home. Whether it's fair or not, all NFL coaches have "their guys," and "their guys" are generally the draft choices taken on their watch.

After all, personnel people are like anyone else, they want to be successful and they want to think their choices are the right ones. It's all human nature.

Chip Kelly and his staff blew into Philadelphia with no allegiance to Harbor or anyone else, save the guys they have brought in since arriving, two of which happen to be high-profile tight ends.

First the Eagles signed a movement-type H-back in free agency in former Houston Texans stalwart James Casey, a player who really fits what Kelly wants to do offensively as far as disguising formations and creating mismatches. Then the selection of Stanford All-American Zach Ertz in the second round of the 2013
draft virtually sealed Harbor's fate.

Or did it?

It's always interesting to watch how football players react to a numbers game which seems insurmountable toward them. Some are so competitive they develop tunnel vision and stay focused on their own business, letting the chips fall where they may. Others give up when they can no longer see the carrot of a roster spot dangling in front of them.

Harbor has taken the positive approach, developing a do-anything mentality that has to be desirous to any coach whether the mentor has a history with the Illinois native or not. The fourth-year pro spent most of his day at OTAs on Monday at tight end and on special teams as usual, but created whispers when it was revealed he also has been lining up as a rush linebacker in Billy Davis' hybrid 3-4 scheme.

In fact, Harbor confirmed he recently spent an entire day practicing as an outside linebacker, a position in which the Eagles are painfully thin.

"I haven't played much defense since high school, when I was a safety, but as an offensive player, we think we have to know more and be a little smarter than those D-lineman," Harbor joked before explaining tight end is still his main job description.

"I'm still a tight end," Harbor continued. "I'm not switching to linebacker. In certain situations -- emergency-style situations -- if something happens, you need to learn that ability to play some defense."

A glass is half empty-type might point out that veteran players who switch sides of the ball often do so because they are not in the team's plans at their current position.

"I'm not looking at it like that," Harbor explained. "I know there is a lot of good tight ends and there is a good chance that I could end up going somewhere else. I'm just going to go out there and compete."

Perhaps Harbor's key to making this team is becoming the NFL's version of a utilityman who can help it in multiple spots depending on what it might need in a particular week. Troy Brown did it in New England for years and these days you'll see Julian Edelman occasionally flip sides for the Patriots.

"There isn't many 6-3, 250-some guys that can run well is their thinking, and they're athletic," Harbor said. "There are 45 guys that dress every Sunday. If something happens, someone gets nicked, if I know the defense, I can help out there."

The odds remain stacked against Harbor in Philadelphia, but if the curtain is indeed closing on his time with the Eagles, there are still 31 other teams in the NFL.

And some of them may want a versatile tight end willing to do anything to help his team win.

"I want to make myself more diverse as a player. Do more things, line up in more situations. If defense helps me out there, I'm going to learn some defense."


*WR Jason Avant has also been taking some snaps with the defensive backs, indicating he's also on the bubble heading into training camp.

*LT Jason Peters, CB Cary Williams, S Patrick Chung, DE Fletcher Cox and offensive line coach Jeff Stoutland all missed practice due to weather-related travel issues

*The Eagles made a roster move before practice, releasing rookie free agent running back Miguel Maysonet and signing Youngstown State tight end Will Shaw.

*Nick Foles had a slight edge on Michael Vick when it came to work with the first team, It's still clearly a three-horse race between those two and rookie Matt Barkley. Foles had the biggest completion of the day, hitting Avant in stride down the right sideline.

*WR Ifeanyi Momah always turns heads with his 6-foot-7, 240-pound frame which screams mismatch every time he steps on the field. Everyone seems to love the Boston Collge product but I just don't see the suddenness or route running ability. Momah hung Foles out to dry on a quick comeback with a painfully slow break.

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