Tight end John Carlson is in his third Irish camp and told us this one has been a little different from the previous camps for a couple of reasons.
Laughing he said, "For one thing the weather was a lot hotter this year, and that wasn't so good. Another difference is that I'm in the mix more than I've been in the past. I'm getting more reps, and I'm getting some looks, and personally that's really exciting."
The junior likes the whole new offense and especially the opportunities for the tight ends and other receivers in the passing schemes.
"I'm really excited," he said. "I feel like we have some weapons at the tight end position and this offense allows us to utilize those weapons, but not only at the tight end position. We have skilled players at wide receiver, running back, tight end, and we have a great quarterback.
"I feel we have made strides in the off-season and camp, and hopefully all these things lead to a more efficient passing game. I'm really excited about the possibilities. It's kind of fun to get out there and see what we can do offensively."
We put the Minnesota native to the test and asked him to describe the receiving corps in one word and why he would choose that word. Without hesitating he responded, "dynamic" and explained; "I feel like we have playmakers at every position, and we have a great quarterback"
Carlson has seen limited action at tight end thus far in his career but it is being reported he is high on the depth chart and should be in the rotation for the season opener. When asked about this he stated, "I'm not really sure. I'm just trying to contribute any way I can. I am getting reps and I want to be ready when they put me in there.
"I will be on special teams and, again, I don't really care where they put me. I just want to contribute to the team and no matter where they put me, I will be happy to be out there."
The former high school all-state player has been impressed by the attitude and play of the rookies and other young receivers and how they have adapted to fall camp.
"They have kind of stepped in and shown that they can elevate their game and can play at this level," Carlson said. "They are making plays in practice and not backing down from the older guys, which is great to see. They are pretty hard-nosed."
The talented athlete has worked hard and made steady improvement in his game each year and is now ready to play an important role in the Irish offense. He was asked what advice he would give to the younger players.
"I think it's important to kind of step back and see the big picture," he said. "You have to get a little better every day. You are going to have a bad practice every now and then and you have to minimize it and move on. You have to keep working hard and try to get better every day."
There are some unanswered questions about the young Irish secondary as the season opener gets closer. Carlson and all the receivers challenge this group every day and he told us, "I believe we have brought in some great coaches and we have some young guys stepping in and filling some of the roles. I don't really know the depth chart, but I feel they are aggressive and stepping up and trying to make plays, which is exciting. They definitely are not backing down."
During the brief time the media is permitted to watch practices, we have observed the big tight end to see if the leg injury he suffered in the Blue-Gold game was slowing him down. He told us, "The funny thing about the injury, it prevented me from running for about eight weeks, which was for the most part the time I was at home.
"That was actually good for me in that allowed me to lift weights for upper body four days a week and helped me to put on about 10 or 15 pounds. So it prevented me from running but it doesn't hinder me anymore and I feel that I am faster than last year."
Carlson said he is also impressed with head coach Charlie Weis and tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee.
"Coach Weis obviously brings that toughness to the table that you need as a head coach," he said. "I feel like we need that as a football team and hopefully that filters through the team.
"There's not one word I can use to describe coach Parmalee.His attention to detail is great and he is great at individualizing instructions. He gives each of us bits of information that we need to elevate our game. He's concerned about us as players but also as people, which I think is a great attribute in a coach. He is definitely pushing us to get to that next level."
It is obvious that football players prepare for the long season through summer conditioning and workouts during the season. What isn't so obvious is the mental preparation by the players. The junior told us how he prepares mentally.
"I feel it's kind of important to look at things in sequences," he said. "You have to take things in strides and steps. You can't look at it as a season from June to January.
"You look at training camp as one phase, and then you move on to preseason practices; then it's on to games. From there it is week to week. We are thinking about Pittsburgh right now and that's what you have to do."
The personable and intelligent Carlson said the outcome of last year's Pitt game could be a motivator for this season's game.
"That's one motivator, but it can't be like a revenge game," he said. "I think we have to have focus and composure too, to go out and play our game. We have to play hard, and I don't think we can look at it as a revenge game."