Entering the Eagles fourth preseason game, Clay Harbor finds himself in an unfamiliar situation. For the first time in his four-year career, Harbor doesn't know exactly where he stands with the team. Despite the fact that he feels as if he is at the apex of his football career, Harbor finds himself in the precarious position of being on the roster bubble.
"It's funny how it works," Harbor said. "You get better, you get better, you get better, and now I feel like I'm the best player that I've ever been, and I'm more confident than I've ever been when I watch myself on film.
"Personally I'm the best player, but there are different situations. I'm the lowest I've ever been (on the depth chart). I've never really felt (how it is) to be in this situation where going into the last game I still have no idea if I'm going to be here or if I'm going to be somewhere else. So it's definitely a different feeling, but I have confidence in myself that I can play."
Harbor has provided a great amount of depth at the tight end position for the Eagles during his first three years, averaging 9.2 yards per reception and finding the end zone four times, including the game-winning touchdown grab in the Eagles' 2012 opener at Cleveland. The Missouri State product's numbers have also increased in every one of his three seasons.
"I feel like I have improved every year," Harbor explained. "I've built more consistency, and that was my big thing coming into the offseason. I've watched myself on film, and I'd have a really good block and then have a sub-par block, and then I would have a really nice route and I would just think to myself 'Why did I do that?' So that comes into focus, and then doing everything right and just focusing on the details of executing plays. Now I feel the best in (that)."
During this year's Training Camp, Harbor began practicing drills and lining up with the wide receivers. The move outside was partially caused by the injuries that the Eagles have suffered at wide receiver, but Harbor says that it's also a credit to how talented the team is at the tight end position.
"It says a lot for our position group as part of this team," Harbor said. "This is a really good tight end group first and foremost, but personally I think it's good. You have all of these good players and you get to take pieces from each person's game. You get to see how they do things and you're competing against each other and pushing yourself and trying to be better than each guy, and that really increases your level of competition and increases how good you are as a player when you get that competition of people pushing you, and you're trying to be the best."
For Harbor, the move to wide receiver was not the first time that the coaches had asked him to play a different position. During OTA's, Harbor saw some time at outside linebacker. He has proven to do anything that is asked of him, which is why he didn't hesitate to give an answer when the coaching staff asked him to move to the outside.
"I thought it was a good idea to give me a chance to get on the field and do some different things," Harbor said. "My initial thought is 'Yeah, I'll do whatever it takes to help the team win'. If they need a receiver, maybe (someone) to play at outside linebacker, I know that was back in OTA's but whatever it takes, I'll do it and I'll do it to the best of my ability."
In the Eagles' final preseason game against the Jets on Thursday night, Harbor will play as a receiver in the first half, and then move to the more familiar position of tight end in the second half. While the two positions are required to perform similar tasks, Harbor pointed out that there are also major differences.
"Inside, there are usually a few different guys who could be guarding you," Harbor noted. "You have to check the coverage and see who is on you, because one guy could be blitzing, one guy could be jamming you. Outside, you know that it's you versus him. It's 'what coverage is he going to play? Is it going to be two high safeties or one high safety? Is it going to be man-to-man or is it going to be zone?' Really you've just got to navigate that one player and see what he's doing. Inside, it's like a fast-paced jumble coming at you. You've got to pick the guys to release off of and just go from there. After playing there for so long, it's just natural. You don't really think about it as much, but there's a difference between being more crowded and being kind of on an island."
Harbor's willingness to move wherever he is needed is something that has been noticed by his coaches. One of those coaches who it is certainly important to impress is head coach Chip Kelly, who views Harbor's talents as something that may help separate himself from the rest of the bubble players.
"I think that's one of the unique traits that Clay brings," Kelly said. "I think the ability to play multiple positions certainly is beneficial to him. Maybe it separates him from the other tight ends who don't have the ability to go outside. I think that's a plus for him, his versatility is a plus for him."
Coming into this season, Harbor knew that finding a spot on the Eagles roster was not going to be a simple task. Coach Kelly has promoted competition from the moment he arrived, and while Harbor is unsure of what the future may hold for him, he knows that there is only one thing that he can do.
"I knew that if I was going to stay at tight end or if I was to go to receiver that it's kind of a coin flip situation for me coming into this last game," Harbor said. "I don't know where I'm going to end up, but all I can do is go out there and play hard and get in the playbook and try to execute to the best of my ability."
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