LIKE MOST college tight ends in this age of spread formations, Clay Harbor wasn't asked to block a whole lot during his career at Missouri State.
"I can honestly say I had never pass-blocked [before getting drafted by the Eagles]," the rookie fourth-rounder said. "I was the team's leading receiver and never, ever, throughout my 4 years, was on any kind of pass-block. I didn't start working on it until I got here."
The guy has turned out to be a pretty quick learner. Because there he was Sunday night, playing a key role in the Eagles' 30-27 win over the Cowboys, not with his pass-catching - he didn't have any receptions in the game and has only three all season - but with his blocking.
He became Pro Bowl linebacker DeMarcus Ware's worst nightmare on the Eagles' final two possessions as they scored to take a 10-point lead, then played keep-away for the game's final 4 1/2 minutes.
The Eagles spent most of those two possessions essentially running the same play - a zone run with running back LeSean McCoy out of a one-back, two-tight end set.
Harbor would line up on a wing on the same side of the formation as the Eagles' other tight end, Brent Celek, about 3 yards behind the line of scrimmage, come across the formation after the ball was snapped and take out Ware, one of the best pass-rushers in the game. While he was doing that, the tackle and guard would block down on the end, creating a hole for McCoy.
Not including two game-ending kneel-downs by quarterback Mike Vick, the Eagles rushed for 81 yards on 10 carries on their last two possessions, 66 by McCoy who finished with a career-high 149 yards.
"We pretty much told them we were doing it," Harbor said. "They just couldn't stop it. That's a tough play to stop."
Harbor mixed up his blocks on Ware, sometimes going low on him, sometimes going high. The final couple of times the Eagles ran the play, Ware wasn't even paying attention to the ballcarrier. He was fixated on Harbor, even before the snap.
"It worked like clockwork every play," the 6-2, 252-pound Harbor said. "From my perspective, when you got that one-on-one with the lineman [Ware] and you cut him, cut him a few times . . .
d-linemen don't like it when you play under their legs. It's a tough block for them to defend.
"If you run hard and cut them, especially big pass-rushers like that, it's tough to defend. Then you stay up [and block them] and you really got 'em guessing."
Harbor was on the field Sunday for 22 of the Eagles' 55 offensive plays, including Vick's game-opening 60-yard completion to DeSean Jackson. It was the very same play the Eagles opened their 59-28 win over the Redskins with 5 weeks ago.
Harbor lined up on the left side and Vick ran a bootleg to that side. Harbor's job was to hold off the rush linebacker until Jackson got open downfield.
He kept Redskins linebacker Brian Orakpo at bay while Vick heaved an 88-yard touchdown pass to Jackson in that game. On Sunday, he was supposed to do the same with Ware. But there never was any need.
"Ware was in man-to-man coverage on me," Harbor said. "So I was real happy about that. I was up for it all day and all night when we got the first 15 [scripted plays] in. I knew I was going to have a one-on-one with Ware. So when he didn't come, it made it easier."
Harbor's blocking skills have come a long way since the beginning of the season. He was activated for the Eagles' Week 1 game against the Packers, but was flagged for a costly holding penalty on what would have been a 2-yard touchdown run by McCoy in the 27-20 loss. He was deactivated for the next 7 games before finally getting another chance in Week 11 against the Redskins. He's been active for every game since.
"He's really got a bright future in this league," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said yesterday. "He's right in the middle of that learning situation that all rookies go through.
"He got better every day during that period when he was inactive, and it has paid off for him. He's a big, physical, fast guy. He'll hit you. It was just the technique/fundamental aspect of it [that he had to learn]."
Marty Mornhinweg and Andy Reid are having a lot of fun finding different places to line up Chad Hall. The rookie wide receiver/running back from Air Force saw his most extensive playing time of the season Sunday against the Cowboys. He was on the field for about 16 of the Eagles' 55 plays, and it was like playing "Where's Waldo?"
They used him in a five-wide receiver set. They used him out wide in a two-wide receiver, one-back, two-tight end set. They used him as a running back in a split backfield with LeSean McCoy in both two- and three-wide receiver sets.
They lined him up in the slot in three- and four-wide receiver sets. They put him in motion in a three-wide receiver set. And, oh, yeah, he returned a kickoff, too.
Hall ended up with only three touches (two receptions for 12 yards and a 21-yard kickoff return), but it's clear they are going to find ways to use the versatile 5-7, 185-pounder. In a couple of previous games, they've even used him in the Wildcat down near the goal line.
Hall has played in five games thus far. He's rushed for 27 yards on eight carries, and also has five receptions for 31 yards.
"This is what I knew [when he signed Hall in March after he finished his 2-year commitment with the Air Force],'' Reid said. "I knew he was a smart kid and could probably handle this kind of thing. I knew he could catch the ball and also run the ball. So that gave us some flexibility to do some things, and it was just a matter of him getting an opportunity.
"He's not the biggest guy or the fastest guy or any of that. But he has tremendous quickness, and he's very disciplined in the things he does.''
Said Hall: 'I just like being out there and contributing however I can. It's great lining up in different ways. Put me in different spots [and] I get different matchups. I never do the same thing twice."
Matchups are the name of the game for Reid and Mornhinweg, which is why versatile players they can move all around the formation appeal so much to them.
"Even with our best guys, you want to try to give them the ball in space or get them matched up against a safety," Hall said. "Anything we can do to give us the best opportunity to make big plays."
AROUND THE NFC EAST
* The chances of Donovan McNabb playing for the Redskins next season grow slimmer with each passing day. McNabb signed a 5-year contract extension last month. But that means nothing. He got $3.5 million in new money this season, but isn't guaranteed a penny beyond 2010.
Asked this week about whether he's concerned about reports offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, son of head coach Mike Shanahan, doesn't want him back, McNabb said: "I can't afford to be. If I don't get that from the guy who makes the decisions than I don't focus on it."
From the lip:
* "When guys choose to pop off, look no further than yourself first and go from there. In this case, no one was willing to bring you aboard for a long time and then we ended up doing it late, so don't hurt yourself in that situation as you go forward. Unfortunately, once we say something, we don't get the chance to take it back. We try, but we don't get to and it's too late sometimes." - Bengals coach Marvin Lewis on Terrell Owens who recently said the team is "underachieving from the top down."
* "C.J. did some really good things in preseason. But we all know the level of intensity goes up a notch when it's not the preseason. C.J. wasn't able to adjust enough." - Bills coach on why first-round pick C.J. Spiller only has 76 touches for his 3-10 team
* "They just look like kids out there having a good time. There's a karma and a chemistry with this team - it's pretty special. And you can feel it when you walk in the locker room. It's a very upbeat kind of feeling. There's a camaraderie, and you see how new people come in and they can integrate very quickly into the system because it is so inviting." - Patriots owner Bob Kraft on his 11-2 football team
By the numbers:
* Mike Vick's 91-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson in the fourth quarter Sunday was the Eagles' third one-play touchdown drive of the season. Through 13 games last year, they had four. They have 10 TD drives of four plays or fewer this season. Last year at this point, they had 17.
* Nineteen of DeSean Jackson's 42 receptions have been for at least 20 yards, including eight for 40-plus yards.
* Since Joe Gibbs' first retirement in March 1993, the Redskins have had only five winning seasons and have won a grand total of two playoff games.
* Rams QB Sam Bradford has thrown for 2,884 yards. He needs only 116 more to become only the third rookie in history to pass for 3,000 yards in a season.
* Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson needs only one more reception to become the third RB in history with 50 or more receptions in nine seasons.
* Randy who? During the Patriots' current five-game win streak, wide receivers Deion Branch and Wes Welker have combined for 64 catches for 901 yards and eight touchdowns.
What, no beagle?:
In case you were wondering what breed of dog Mike Vick might own after he has completed his probation, here are the odds, according to online oddsmaker bodog.com: pit bull 1-1, bulldog 2-1, Labrador 5-1, golden retriever 6-1, German shepherd 7-1, poodle 25-1, Chihuahua 30-1.
DOMO'S RANKINGS (Last week's rankings in parentheses)
1. Patriots 11-2 ( 1)
2. Saints 10-3 ( 2)
3. Steelers 10-3 ( 4)
4. Ravens 9-4 ( 5)
5. Falcons 11-2 ( 7)
6. Eagles 9-4 ( 9)
7. Giants 9-4 (10)
8. Bears 9-4 ( 8)
9. Packers 8-5 ( 3)
10. Jets 9-4 ( 6)
11. Jaguars 8-5 (13)
12. Bucs 8-5 (14)
13. Dolphins 7-6 (17)
14. *Chargers 7-6 (21)
15. Colts 7-6 (15)
16. Chiefs 8-5 (11)
17. Rams 6-7 (12)
18. Browns 5-8 (16)
19. Raiders 6-7 (19)
20. *49ers 5-8 (25)
21. Cowboys 4-9 (18)
22. Texans 5-8 (22)
23. Vikings 5-8 (20)
24. Titans 5-8 (24)
25. Seahawks 6-7 (23)
26. Lions 3-10 (27)
27. Bills 3-10 (30)
28. Redskins 5-8 (26)
29. Cardinals 4-9 (31)
30. Bengals 2-11 (28)
31. Broncos 3-10 (29)
32. Panthers 1-12 (32)