For many players entering the NFL, being labeled as a certain type of player, even a one-dimensional player can be maddening.
Rookie tight end
Now, as Harkey competes as one of the undrafted rookie long shots to make the team’s final 53-man roster, he takes a bit of a different approach to the ticket he’s been given.
While Harkey hopes to prove he is much more than just a blocker, he also openly embraces doing all the dirty work that his job entails.
“If you have a strength, that’s where you really want to show coaches what you are really talented at and what your true passion is for,” Harkey said. “But you still do want to be an all around tight end and not just specifically one thing.”
Entering his first NFL training camp and with his first NFL preseason game coming Sunday at Indianapolis, Harkey hasn’t hesitated to embrace the role that most expect him to play.
The tight end position comes with as much competition as any spot on the depth chart in this camp. Harkey is one of eight tight ends competing for what will likely be three or four spots on the final roster.
Tight ends play an important role in the Rams offense and there is room for different flavors at the position, including blocking specialists in a scheme that figures to be run heavy.
“We have obviously quite a group there and it’s very competitive,” coach Jeff Fisher said. “(Tight ends) Coach Rob (Boras) is doing a great job with them. They are required to both block and protect and run precise routes. It’s going to be competitive. There are going to be some tough decisions there.”
Coordinator Brian Schottenheimer’s offense asks a lot of the tight ends and Harkey was made aware of that even before signing with the team. Although he was disappointed to go undrafted, the one benefit to not being selected is the opportunity to choose your destination.
In a solid four-year career at UCLA, Harkey didn’t get many opportunities to make plays in the passing game. In fact, he caught just one pass for 10 yards in his senior season.
So when Harkey was sifting through options for his first NFL chance, he wanted to find a place that would take advantage of his vast blocking abilities.
In talking with the Rams, it quickly became clear to Harkey that he’d have a chance to do just that for Fisher and Schottenheimer.
“I knew that coach wanted me to come in and dominate the line of scrimmage,” Harkey said. “That was a good fit for me because that was what I did my senior year in college and throughout my college career. That was definitely a good thing to hear. It actually fits perfect with this offense because we like to run the ball. But we are not afraid to mix it up and spread it out so it works out good.”
Listed at 6’4 and 260 pounds, Harkey cuts an imposing figure as a blocker and routinely helped open holes in the running game for the Bruins.
Of course, Harkey’s success as a blocker isn’t limited to his imposing size.
“I just think being a good blocker, you have got to want it more than the other guy,” Harkey said. “You have to be willing to do the dirty work. That’s how I’ve been raised and I just have such a passion for the game I am willing to do whatever it takes to help the team win.
“Blocking is definitely exciting. There’s nothing like lining up across from somebody and going heads up. You have got to have a passion for it and just want to do it.”
Harkey’s efforts to make the final roster were sidetracked a bit in the spring as he was unable to participate in Organized Team Activities or any full squad minicamps because of a league rule that prevents rookies from reporting to their teams until their college class graduates.
That rule kept Harkey from reporting to the Rams until right at the end of their offseason program and put him behind the curve on a number of fronts. Though Harkey stayed in contact with Boras and worked diligently to stay in shape – he dropped 10 pounds working out in California – he reported to training camp at a decided disadvantage as he missed the initial installation of the offense.
Most players are excited to start the season but not so much for training camp. Harkey was an exception.
“I was definitely eager to come,” Harkey said. “I feel like it’s been awhile since I was able to strap on the pads. The last game I had was my all star game so it’s been awhile since I have been able to play some football so that was definitely good.”
Harkey has regularly spent extra time after practice working on everything from running routes to catching extra passes. He stays in his playbook when he leaves the ContinuityX Training Center for hours each night, all in hopes of getting caught up as fast as possible.
“It was definitely tough (not being here),” Harkey said. “I was really upset about it. It was tough but there was nothing I could do about it. Now I have to just try to catch up to everybody else and show these coaches I belong here and I can make a different with this team.”
Make no mistake; while Harkey knows his bread and butter will come from his blocking, he’s working to improve in all areas to make it even more difficult for coaches to overlook him in the final evaluations.
Harkey has flashed soft hands occasionally in practice and even caught a touchdown pass in the live portion of last week’s scrimmage.
“Yeah, I think it’s been underestimated but I am just trying to get better every day,” Harkey said. “Whether they want me to block or they want me to catch balls, I am going to work on it all and show these coaches I can be an all around tight end instead of just one specific thing. Of course, you want to work to your strengths but in my opinion I don’t want to just be one specific thing. I want to be good in all aspects of the game.”
Ultimately, Harkey will likely be viewed through the lens of a primary blocker. That puts him in direct competition with other gifted blockers such as
“Tight ends create a problem in this league in our opinion for matchups because you can get in multiple formations with those guys,” Schottenheimer said. “And sometimes they are in the backfield and sometimes they are playing receiver and sometimes they are in line and that allows you to create problems for a defense.”
Harkey will get his best chance to make an impression yet in his first preseason contest Sunday in Indianapolis. Nearly two weeks into his first training camp, Harkey is ready to get the opportunity to hit someone in a jersey that isn’t the same as his.
Further, Harkey knows that playing in a game is a prime opportunity to start getting noticed, not only by the Rams but teams everywhere.
“I feel like it’s good to put out good film on game day because you are showing the coaches you are paying attention and know what you’re doing,” Harkey said. “That’s very important. The big thing is once you get out there and the lights come on, you don’t try to do more than what you can do. That’s one thing I’ve always been taught too. If you are working hard in practice, the games are easy. So all you have got to do is stay in the playbook, keep working hard and hopefully the games come easy.”