Only two seasons ago, tight end Brent Celek emerged as one of the premier pass catchers at his position in the league as he racked up 76 receptions for 971 yards and eight touchdowns.
Last season, Celek's numbers dipped as he was called into action to help support the offensive line. The Eagles also used a fourth-round pick in 2010 on Clay Harbor, the only one of the 13 draft picks to not come from a BCS program. Harbor began his college career at Missouri State as a wide receiver, moved to tight end and set a school record with 150 catches for 1,906 yards and 10 touchdowns. The 6-3, 252-pound Harbor, like Celek, was instrumental in the blocking game as he adjusted to the NFL.
In the Monday night blowout of the Redskins, Harbor blocked outside linebacker Brian Orakpo one-on-one as quarterback Michael Vick rolled to his left and unleashed the 88-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on the game's opening play to set the tone for the rout. In the Week 14 win at Dallas, the Eagles were able to run out the clock late due in large part to Harbor's ability to frustrate outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware in blocking assignments.
Harbor did have nine catches for 72 yards and a touchdown on the season. He had four catches for 32 yards in the regular season finale against the Cowboys. Following the season, Harbor underwent an operation to repair a sports hernia. It was an injury that Harbor said bothered him during the season but did not affect his play. Harbor said that he began to sprint and run routes last week and already feels better than he did during the season.
Coaches have expressed to Harbor that the biggest jump for an NFL player is from Year 1 to Year 2. Looking back at his rookie season, Harbor believes that the most important thing is that he proved he can play at this level.
"It's not a stereotype that I have to overcome anymore," Harbor said of playing at a FCS school. "Development at first was slow, but towards the end of the season I began to feel more comfortable and feel like I've made strides from the beginning of the season to the end of the season."
Harbor is going to go back to Missouri State to train and help former teammate David Arkin, an offensive lineman who competed at the Combine, get ready for his pro day. Last year, Harbor said that he did everything he could to physically and mentally prepare himself for the NFL, but at the end of the day nothing beats experience.
"You have nothing to go off of as far as what to expect coming into a training camp, coming into a season, coming into playoffs," Harbor said.
With Celek, the Eagles have a dynamic 1-2 punch at the tight end position. Harbor said that he believes he can help present some mismatches on the field and is willing to line up as a fullback, H-back, whatever the team wants to help it win.
It will be interesting to see how the Eagles use the tight end position moving forward. Looking at the evolution of Donovan McNabb's career as he had a Pro Bowl tight end in Chad Lewis, the quarterback was much more reliant on the tight end early in his career. In 2000, McNabb's first full season as a starter, Lewis led the team in catches and yards. In fact, according to Stats Inc., 24.6 percent of McNabb's attempts were to tight ends and 27.3 percent of his completed passes went to tight ends.
As McNabb developed, those numbers went down all the way to 14.0 percent of his attempts and 13.1 percent of his completions in 2007. However, those numbers climbed with the emergence of Celek. In 2009, McNabb attempted 21 percent of his passes and completed 21.3 percent of his passes to tight ends. In his first significant amount of playing time, Kevin Kolb attempted 24 percent of his passes and 30.6 percent of his completed passes were to tight ends two years ago.
Last year, with the need for blocking and Michael Vick's experience those numbers dipped. Vick attempted 16.1 percent of his passes to tight ends and 15.5 percent of his completed passes went to that position. Those were the lowest numbers since 2007. If those numbers bounce back towards the 20 percent level, which has been the average during the Andy Reid era, that's five extra receptions for every 100 completions which could add 18-20 receptions over the course of the season.
Don't be surprised to see the tight end position become a bigger part of the passing offense once again in 2011.
-- Posted by Chris McPherson, 3:00 p.m., March 8