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Eagles veterans Clay Harbor and Jason Avant have practiced recently on the opposite side of scrimmage, casting some doubt about their futures with the organization under new coach Chip Kelly.
Harbor, a fourth-year tight end, recently spent a day practicing as an outside linebacker. Avant, an eighth-year wide receiver, worked in the secondary. Neither has been moved out of his primary position or expects to be moving to defense permanently.
Harbor said he’s practicing at outside linebacker for “emergency” situations, to be able to fill in if there were multiple injuries at that position. He only did linebacker drills and classroom sessions. He said he didn’t take any linebacker reps in scrimmage at Organized Team Activities this past week.
In years past, when players have switched sides of scrimmage, it’s usually a sign that they don’t factor into the team’s plans at their current position.
Harbor admitted that his future with team was already cloudy after the Eagles signed tight end James Casey in free agency and drafted tight end Zach Ertz in the second round.
“Obviously, we’ve got a lot of tight ends here,” he said. “Right now, there is a good chance I might not be here, whatever. Right now, I’m just going to play as hard as I can, learn what they want me to learn and do what I can do to try to make this team and make the team better.”
Both spoke about the changes Saturday at the fifth-annual Men’s Academy clinic conducted by the Eagles at the NovaCare Complex, where Harbor and Avant led fans through classroom sessions and an on-field skills session.
Avant, 30, declined to get into specifics about his work at defensive back, but dismissed the suggestion that any past scenarios of players switching sides of scrimmage can be compared to his situation. The Patriots have had success in past years moving players from offense to defense, and vice versa.
“I always say I never compare myself to other guys because those other guys, they’re not me,” he said. “It’s one of those things that I work hard, I’m going to continue to work hard and whatever that may be, whatever the team wants to do with me, I’m going to do it as best as I can for the team, whatever that may be.
“I don’t necessarily think it’ll cloud my future. I really think it’s an honor anyway for a coach to think you can do other things.”
Avant’s role was already in question given Kelly’s emphasis on tight ends and the spread offense. Avant has primarily played the inside receiver throughout his career, the spot where tight ends usually line up in spread offenses, along with being a key part of special teams. Avant has the best hands among the receivers and makes the toughest catches, but doesn’t have high-end speed, which is why he was perfect for the slot in Andy Reid’s West Coast offense.
Harbor repeated several times that he is still a tight end, first and foremost, but expects to keep learning outside linebacker and could see some scrimmage reps next week at Organized Team Activities.
“I’m a tight end, and for emergency situations and versatility purposes, for me, I’m learning something new,” he said. “If something happens in a game, you have 52 guys on the roster, 45 guys that can dress. If something happens where you do need an outside linebacker, it’s good to know something. I’m still a tight end. I’m not switching positions.”
Harbor later repeated that the competition at tight end threatens his job security.
“I’m just going to go out there and compete,” he said. “Obviously, there’s a lot of great tight ends here. When it comes down to it , there’s a lot of different things that can happen with the roster.”