The New England Patriots lost tight end Michael Williams with a torn ACL and will have to rely on the depth at the position to step up. It seems far more likely now than free agent signing Clay Harbor will step up as the 3rd tight end on the depth chart.
Williams served multiple functions for the Patriots and was more than just an extra offensive lineman. He also was a lead blocker in the “wedge” on kick returns, and we know how much head coach Bill Belichick appreciates special teams value.
Belichick says that Harbor will step up in that role- if he can.
“Professional. Works hard. He’s a versatile guy,” Belichick said about Harbor after Thursday’s minicamp. “He’s done a lot of different things in Philadelphia and Jacksonville. We’ll ask him to do the same things. Special teams and offense. Hopefully a number of roles if he can do them.”
It’s convenient that the Patriots faced Harbor while he was on the Jaguars last season because Belichick opened up on the challenges of scheming against such a versatile player.
“I'd say that [Clay] Harbor is...a fullback, tight end kind of guy," Belichick said before the 2015 regular season game against the Jaguars. "[He] sort of lines up in a lot of different places. They use him in motion, change formations with him quite a bit...Harbor is a good receiver."
"[Using Harbor in motion] puts pressure on the defense to recognize where everybody's at and adjust to it," Belichick added.
Harbor is likely to take over as the lead fullback on the roster, while adding more flexibility as a potential receiver. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he saw a few handoffs out of the backfield in a similar fashion to former Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez.
The 6’3, 250 lbs Harbor is ready to take on whatever role the coaches ask of him as he tries to make the final roster.
“At this point in my career, winning...is my number one priority,” Harbor said after Tuesday’s minicamp. “When you're a rookie, you don’t really realize the extent of the more you can do; when you get older you do realize special teams is huge. If you’re going to be a block and move guy, that’s huge. There are a lot of different ways you can help the team win.
"You can’t just try and lock yourself into one position. There’s a lot of thing you can do to have a successful career in the league.”
Harbor returned to practice on Thursday after missing Wednesday. He will have an opportunity to be successful and to help the team win in 2016.