Last year, Stanley Havili was the only member of the Eagles' 11-player draft class never to get the call up to the 53-man roster. Nine of the 11 draftees were on the active roster for the entirety of the 2011 season, while Havili's fellow seventh-rounder Greg Lloyd was called up after 12 weeks on the practice squad. But now, with the regular season on the horizon, Havili seems to have the inside track to a roster spot at a position all to himself.
There has been some speculation this offseason that the Eagles might choose to forego utilizing a traditional fullback on the roster, opting instead to move around a versatile player like tight end Clay Harbor or running back Chris Polk when a fullback is needed. But head coach Andy Reid dispelled that notion during Thursday's press conference.
"You need a fullback," Reid said. "In our offense, you need a fullback."
It's fair to understand where the questions come regarding the necessity for a traditional fullback. After all, last year's fullback Owen Schmitt only saw the field on less than 16 percent of the team's offensive snaps. But while Havili noted how much he learned from Schmitt last year, he doesn't see himself as the same kind of fullback as the bruising Schmitt. Instead, Havili fashions himself more in the mold of another recent Eagles fullback - Leonard Weaver. And in 2009, Weaver played 45.2 of the Eagles' offensive snaps en route to the Pro Bowl.
"When Leonard was here, I think they used the fullback a lot in the two-back sets to get Shady out and keep different defenses out there," said Havili. "The last couple years, with Owen here, they didn't utilize the fullback that much. So hopefully, they bring it back to where they're using him more.
"I think me and Leonard, our skill set is the same. We're both athletic fullbacks and west-coast fullbacks. We're not traditional, run-(isolation)-all-day fullbacks. Split us out, play running back, play third-down back, I think that's the biggest difference between this year and last year with fullbacks."
Havili's main competition for the fullback spot is undrafted rookie Emil Igwenagu, but according to offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, it's fair to say that Havili is the frontrunner.
"They are both talented players and both physical players," Mornhinweg said. "Stanley has been in this offense for just a little bit longer, so he certainly has that step ahead."
For his part, Havili feels well prepared for life as a first-teamer after his practice squad apprenticeship last season.
"It was humbling to be (on the practice squad), but it was definitely a good learning experience to learn from Owen and to see how they prepare here for games," Havili said. "I think preparation and how the guys go about the week and how they prepare for every game (was the most important lesson). That's a lot different from college. It's a job here and you have to just get your job done."
As for his handle on that particular job, Havili feels confident with the ball in his hands. He was a productive receiver in college, notching 1,290 receiving yards (and 509 rushing yards), along with 15 total touchdowns. Pass blocking has also been a strength, he said. Reid noted that the team's fullback must be a factor on special teams, where Havili is currently a "core member," meaning that he's a first-team player on all four special teams phases at the moment. But the one area where Havili admitted he needs to impress the coaches and show improvement this preseason is as a run blocker.
"I think that was the biggest thing coming into Training Camp, showing that I could block," said Havili, who noted that a shoulder injury in college limited his ability as a lead blocker. "I think you just have to show them when your time comes to hit, to hit, and to block. They know that I can run the ball and that I can catch and I just think the biggest thing this Training Camp was to show that I could hit."
With limited live reps in Training Camp and only a few first-team snaps in the preseason opener, Monday night's dress rehearsal against the New England Patriots is likely to provide Havili with the greatest sample size from which to be judged by the coaches prior to the final roster cutdown. It's an opportunity he's greatly anticipating.
"Oh, I can't wait," he said. "I can't wait for these three quarters or however long they have me in."
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