PHILADELPHIA -- It usually isn’t a good thing when a new coaching staff comes to a player and asks him to switch positions. That has happened to Clay Harbor twice since Chip Kelly became head coach of the Eagles.
“I don’t look at it as, I’m not going to be able to play my position,” said Harbor, who was drafted in the fourth round of the 2010 draft as a tight end. “I look at it as an opportunity to help the team. You could see it either way. I looked at it as an opportunity.”
He is making the most of it. With too many tight ends after adding James Casey and Zach Ertz, Kelly moved the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Harbor to wide receiver. There is a need there because of injuries to Jeremy Maclin and Arrelious Benn.
“I think Clay has done a great job,” offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “He's done everything we've asked. I think the way we structure our passing game, you know, you learn the concept based on being in the first, second or third spot, and so instead of being in the second or third spot, we are just putting him out at one. And I've seen him improve in every session since we put him there.”
There is a lesson here, not just about adapting to what your new boss wants, but about how Kelly operates. He has famously said that “Big people beat up little people,” but he might as well add that smart people out-think less-smart people.
“In any offense, you need to be smart,” Harbor said. “But in this offense, especially, with how you have to know every concept with every play, and everybody should know every position. Smart players definitely have a leg up.”
Harbor’s mastery of Kelly’s offense could just earn him a roster spot.
“If you learn all the concepts in the offense,” Harbor said, “you ought to be able to play any position. That’s what it comes down to. It’s a different kind of offense. It’s an offense where everybody should learn all the concepts.”
For perspective’s sake, remember the little dust-up between Kelly and DeSean Jackson. The speedy wideout sought an audience with his head coach to find out why he was running with the second team at times. The answer was that Jackson needed to study until he knew every route for every position on every play.
“You have to learn how to run the route,” Harbor said. “You know what the route looks like, you’ve got to learn the details of it, what to make it look like to the defensive back, timing things. You know, it took a couple of days, but it’s coming along.”
The first time Kelly asked Harbor to move, it was a bigger change: to linebacker.
“That was just a couple days in OTAs,” Harbor said.
But even then, it was an opportunity to improve as an offensive player. If there is a chess match between receivers and defensive players, Harbor got a peek at the board from the other side. If you know what a linebacker is thinking as he drops into zone coverage, you can exploit that to find an open spot.
“That was very helpful, the few things I learned there,” Harbor said. “I learned different stances when they’re going inside or going outside, what the responsibilities are. They don’t want anybody outside of them in certain situations, so we can take exaggerated drops to block them.”
Harbor looked very sharp playing on the outside in Saturday’s last open practice of the summer. His size and experience as a blocker can be assets in Kelly’s running game. And Harbor was one of the four tight ends Kelly deployed a couple of times against Carolina last week.
After the additions of Casey and Ertz made him look expendable, Harbor has used his smarts to improve his chances to make the team. And who knows? If the Eagles decide to deal a tight end to a team desperate for one -- Miami Dolphins on Line 1 -- Harbor’s development could allow them to move Brent Celek or Harbor himself.
Camp milestone: The kindest, gentlest training camp in Eagles history hit a milestone over the weekend. After two preseason games, the team used to move operations from Lehigh University to its regular-season facility. Since the entire camp was held at the NovaCare Complex, the shift was marked by closing practice to the media.
Kelly gave the players another off day Monday, two days after their last off day. Somewhere Vince Lombardi is scratching his head.
The coaching staff was set to meet Monday and implement a game plan (of sorts) for Saturday’s preseason game in Jacksonville. The idea is to replicate a typical regular-season week.
“I think we are so far away from the game right now,” Shurmur said. “We like to get in a mode where we prepare like a [regular] week, but we are also still in training camp where we are trying to get better, going Eagles against Eagles.”
“I don’t feel like I’m watching it,” Barkley said. “I still feel like I’m playing in it.”
There’s no harm in that, although it seems clear that either Vick or Foles will start Week 1 at Washington. Barkley’s timetable is set for later in the season, if necessary.
“He's made great strides,” Shurmur said. “I think when you notice Matt, I think the truth can be said about his work in the games. As he settled down, he played better, so I think it's just a matter of him playing more and more and more.”