By Joseph Santoliquito
Philadelphia, PA (CBS) — Dealing with the dirty, nasty work was something completely foreign to Stanley Havili. But if he was going to make the Eagles, if he had any intention of seeing quality playing time, he would have to accept something: He would need to succeed at the dirty, nasty work.
Fullback is becoming a foreign word in the present-day NFL. They block, and block, and when they’re not getting a rare inside carry to scratch out a yard or two, they block some more. Hardly any team in the NFL has one, but in the Eagles’ offensive scheme, Andy Reid has always found use for a fullback.
The problem with Havili, however, is he came from a collegiate background where he was accustomed to having the ball in his hands, not block. He’s accepted his role with the Eagles, and it came out again Sunday night in the Eagles’ 19-17 victory over the Giants, when Havili plowed his way for 15 yards on two carries and caught one pass for seven yards.
Havili’s two carries came at an important juncture in the game. Clinging to a 13-10 lead, after Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie intercepted an Eli Manning pass in the end zone, Havili took a handoff up the gut for seven yards, to the Eagles’ 45. Later in the drive, he took another smartly designed play eight yards to the Giants’ 13, setting up Alex Henery’s third field goal of the game.
But what has caught Reid’s attention, why Havili may get more touches and more playing time, is his blocking. He helped make holes for LeSean McCoy to zip through the New York defense for 121 yards rushing in the second half—especially going right led by Havili, and behind tight end Brent Celek and right tackle Todd Herremans.
The night didn’t start too well for the 24-year old from Salt Lake City, Utah, when he dropped a pass from Michael Vick on the Eagles’ second play of the game. But Havili, like the Eagles’ offense, got into a rhythm in the second half.
“With the exception of the second play, where he had the drop, from then on, he went on to play very well I thought,” Reid said.
There was no doubt the Eagles were keeping a fullback. Although how Havili would fit in was anyone’s guess. He hardly blocked at USC. Playing a traditional fullback’s role in USC’s west coast offense,Havili’s 116 receptions are the most-ever in school history for a fullback. He was cut by the Eagles last year and re-signed as a practice squad player.
He’s overcome his share of adversity, too. As a junior at Cottonwood High, in Murray, Utah, he suffered a severe shoulder injury. But because his father was supporting eight children on a bus driver’s paycheck, the family couldn’t afford proper rehab—so Havili’s had recurring shoulder problems throughout his college and pro career.
At USC, where the Eagles drafted him in the seventh round in 2011, he suffered a broken leg his freshman year, 2006—but that healed in time for him to return to the Trojans in 2007.
He can do an array of things, but it’s his new-found ability to block that’s keeping Havili on the field.
“Remember last year, we put [Havili] in at tight end, flex him out into the slot, and he could do all of those things, and he’s a versatile guy that can do a lot of things,” Reid said. “We did a couple of things out that wing look with him. We actually ran outside on it, not to him, but where he was a blocker, and it was an outside play for him.
“He was banged up just a little bit in college, and they didn’t ask him to do much in the [blocking] area. I was impressed with his off-season, how he trained, how he got himself bigger and stronger. His mentality is, where in college he was a ball carrier and a receiver, here he knows what his role is and he’s attacked that part of it. And really, we’ve given him all of the above, but the blocking, you have to start there if you’re going to make this team as a fullback. Then we’ll add the rest to it.”
Many good things are concurrently converging on Havili. He’s seeing the field more. He’s getting more attention, but wasn’t able to address it on Monday at the NovaCare Complex. He had a very good reason—his wife was expecting their first child.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.