For fans frequenting Training Camp this past summer, tight end Clay Harbor's after-practice routine became a common sight. His teammates would scatter to the air-conditioned weight room or the cold tubs, but Harbor's day wasn't done until he caught an additional 50 passes after practice. He could be catching balls from backup quarterbacks or the ball boys, it didn't matter. He just wanted the extra work.
Harbor's above-and-beyond attitude paid off. He fought off three other tight ends in preseason and once again made the Eagles' 53-man roster. But since the games started counting, Harbor has been something akin to an invisible man. He caught the game-winning touchdown from Michael Vick in Week 1 against Cleveland, but has since all but disappeared from the offense. His lowest points came against the Falcons and Panthers, when he had only had nine snaps on offense in each game.
But with Brent Celek out for Thursday night's game against the Bengals with a concussion, Harbor is being asked to step up and contribute to a young Eagles offense looking for a win on a short week.
"You can't really replace Brent Celek. He's a great all-around tight end," Harbor said Monday. "I'm just going to go in there and do the best I can. I'm going to take it as a good opportunity to go out there and get some good playing time."
Celek was concussed on the first offensive snap of the game last Sunday, which meant Harbor was (and still is) the only tight end on the active roster. It also meant Harbor played the most snaps of his NFL career – 51 on offense and 12 on special teams.
Sure, Harbor finished the game with a few extra bumps and bruises, but he finished with some nice numbers on offense, too. Harbor caught a career-high six passes for 52 yards and a critical fourth-quarter touchdown that allowed the Eagles to climb back in the game against Tampa Bay.
In doing so, Harbor showed fans why the coaches drafted him in the fourth round of the 2011 draft. He possesses great athleticism, plus the speed to be a vertical threat in the passing game. And Harbor made good use of his extracurricular work – quarterback Nick Foles targeted Harbor six times, and he caught all six. His day was highlighted by catching a laser of a pass from Foles with less than four minutes to go in the game. The touchdown brought the Eagles within four points and allowed the Eagles to continue Sunday's dramatic comeback.
"I think I play pretty well in every aspect of the game," he said. "I can play well in the run game, pass game I feel like I can block pretty well as well as catch some balls and stretch the field. I don't feel like too many linebackers can guard me one-on-one."
Harbor demonstrated Sunday that he's capable of being an effective weapon in this offense. Now, he's being asked to bring it again in three days time. If Harbor's work ethic and his performance Sunday are any indication, the Eagles shouldn't have much to worry about when the lights come on Thursday night.
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