In battle to be Eagles' second tight end, two similar players with similar stories

Training camp battles: Eagles tight end Cornelius Ingram hauls in a pass in front of defender Keenan Clayton, at left. Above, rookie Clay Harbor (82) reaches for a ball against Nate Allen.
Training camp battles: Eagles tight end Cornelius Ingram hauls in a pass in front of defender Keenan Clayton, at left. Above, rookie Clay Harbor (82) reaches for a ball against Nate Allen.
Posted: August 03, 2010

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Cornelius Ingram still looks the part.

He still stands 6-feet-4, with a chiseled 250-pound body and a powerful grip that can swallow footballs or an extended hand.

The question is, can he still play the part of the standout athlete, the kind good enough to play varsity basketball as a seventh grader, become a legend in his tiny Florida home town, go to the University of Florida for basketball and football and wow training camp observers as a rookie in 2009 before suffering his second devastating knee injury in two years?

The Eagles are trying to find out.

But they also have added another challenge for Ingram: Clay Harbor, another athletic tight end who can run and catch.

While Ingram worked to come back from his second torn anterior cruciate ligament, the team picked Harbor in the fourth round of April's draft, setting up a competition for the position of second tight end behind Brent Celek.

It's a battle of two similarly-skilled players with similar roots: small town stars who excelled in basketball before focusing on football and thriving. They are two of the most affable and engaging interviews on the team.

But they face distinct challenges. Harbor is a rookie from a small college learning to play in the NFL. Ingram is trying to show he can be his old self after twice tearing the ACL in his left knee.

"We need somebody to step up and play the second position," said quarterback Kevin Kolb. "I think there's a good, solid battle going on there right now, and I think everyone's performing really well."

In the early going, Harbor has shown sure hands and quickness, stretching for balls over the middle of the field and displaying agility after hauling them in.

On one play Monday, he caught a ball in the flat, deftly spun away from a charging linebacker and rushed upfield for more yards.

Ingram, meanwhile, appeared to struggle for separation Monday while mostly going up against covering linebackers.

Ingram said he feels better every day, especially after fighting nerves on the first day of full-contact practices, when he worried about being caught in scrums at the end of plays.

He said he is more confident now after having his knee repaired by the renowned surgeon James Andrews and rehabilitating with the Eagles.

"Knee feels good. . . . I'm real excited," Ingram said. "I know that I have the ability to play this game at a high level."

Still, he hedged when asked if he feels as explosive as he did before the injuries.

"I'm definitely about there, getting back there, we've still got a long way in training camp," Ingram said, adding, "It almost feels the same."

The two seasons on the sideline - Ingram last tore his ACL in training camp 2009, 364 days after doing it while at Florida and missing his senior season - have been a challenge, especially for someone who has been a star athlete since as early as seventh grade, when he made the varsity basketball team in tiny Hawthorne, Fla., population 1,600.

"I'd be lying if I said it hasn't been tough, because when you're doing something you love and have passion in your whole life and it's taken away, it is very tough," Ingram said.

Harbor also comes to the tight end competition with something to prove. He stood out in tiny Dwight, Ill. (population 4,300, about 75 miles southwest of Chicago), starring in football, basketball and track.

But he struggled to gain notice in football, and only Missouri State offered a scholarship.

"Coming from a small school, you just want to show people that you belong and you can play at this level," he said.

Ingram, too, is still trying to show he can play in the NFL. Each competitor said they need to take advantage of their opportunitiess in camp.

"You have to go hard every day," Ingram said. "Football wouldn't be football if we didn't have any competition."


Contact staff writer Jonathan Tamari at 215-854-5214 or jtamari@phillynews.com.

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