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Will Harbor be fit into a new mold by Eagles, Kelly?

Published: Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 4:50 p.m. CDT

Much of what happens during the NFL’s preseason is immaterial, but one bit of news that broke this weekend may have a real impact on a local native.

Clay Harbor, a 2006 graduate of Dwight High School, took some snaps at receiver during Philadelphia Eagles practice on Sunday. If you watched Harbor play in high school and haven’t kept track of him since, that shouldn’t surprise you. Harbor was a school record-smashing receiver for the Trojans.

When Harbor was playing at Missouri State University, though, he switched to tight end, and he hasn’t looked back since. The Eagles drafted him as a tight end in 2010, and that’s where he’s played for the past three seasons.

The move is a need-necessitated one for the Eagles. They weren’t terribly deep at receiver before starter Jeremy Maclin tore his ACL earlier in camp.

Another receiver, Riley Cooper, is back practicing with the team after his use of a racist slur created a national firestorm and caused Cooper to briefly leave the team.

By contrast, Harbor’s usual position is one at which the Eagles have (at least for now) an abundence of players.

“We’ve got seven tight ends, and (Harbor) already knows how to play inside because all the tight ends know how to play the slot,” Eagles head coach Chip Kelly told reporters, according to a story posted on Pro Football Talk.

“He had three big catches for us Friday night. He’s probably the fastest of the tight ends. Until, really, there’s some cut downs and there’s some guys available, we think that the best route for us is the guys we have.”

This doesn’t sound like a one-time thing. Kelly made it sound like Harbor would continue to play at receiver this week and likely into Thursday’s exhibition game against Carolina.

“We’ll try to get (Harbor) some reps this week so he can feel comfortable, and hopefully we can get him in a game out there,” Kelly said, according to PFT.

With Kelly, a renowned offensive innovator, replacing Andy Reid and his West Coast offense, I was already interested in how Harbor’s role would change. His production had grown steadily under Reid, as he caught nine, 13 and 25 passes in his first three seasons.

Could a shift to receiver cause Habor to get even more targets? It’s tough to say. Guys like Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham and pre-arrest Aaron Hernandez have proven that you can produce huge numbers at the position in the modern NFL.

Brent Celek, who shares his team and position with Harbor, has finished second on the Eagles in receptions in each of the last two seasons.

On the other hand, history says that Kelly isn’t big on throwing to his tight ends. According to a Philadelphia Inquirer article from May, tight ends caught just 16.3 percent of completed passes by Kelly’s University of Oregon teams.

I will say this. Switching to receiver may give Harbor an opportunity to be on the field more often, even if he’s not necessarily going to be targeted more frequently when he’s there. There’s a logjam at tight end that doesn’t exist at receiver.

Not only does Celek remain in Harbor’s way at tight end, the Eagles also drafted Zach Ertz in the second round and signed free agent James Casey. At receiver, DeSean Jackson is the clear No. 1, and Cooper is likely to start opposite him, but Jason Avant leads an underwhelming list fighting for the remaining spots.

I’ll be keeping an eye on how the Harbor-at-receiver situation plays out. If he doesn’t stick there, I guess a position switch remains possible. The same PFT report says that Harbor moonlighted at linebacker during the offseason.

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