Senior Anthony Fasano has moved on to greener pastures by declaring for the NFL draft. Gone is a steady and sometimes spectacular performer who did all the little things that makes a complete player. Fasano's 47 catches can likely be replaced, but can anyone replace his ability to block? His blocking is what made him a special player in my mind.
Everyone remembers the name Ray Edwards. Edwards was a 6-6, 260-pound pass rushing demon for Purdue who terrorized the Irish two seasons ago. Edwards was silenced in 2006 for the most part, mostly due to some outstanding blocking by Fasano. I know I keep saying it, but Fasano really helped out the Irish offense in so many more ways that just catching the football.
Junior John Carlson is likely everyone's pick to replace Fasano. Carlson is taller (6-6) and quicker than Fasano. The Litchfield, Minn. native appears to be a better athlete than Fasano as well. He has all the tools to be an outstanding passing threat next season, but he'll need to improve his blocking a great deal if he wants to be at Fasano's level.
Carlson got his first taste of the end zone this season with a 22-yard grab for a touchdown against Purdue, but finished the season with just seven catches for 56 yards. He'll likely get the first crack at replacing Fasano, but we expect others to challenge Carlson for the position.
Senior Marcus Freeman also has a shot to take the spot. Freeman is probably the better blocker out of the two, but he hasn't seen a lot of action at this point. The St. Paul Minn. native caught all of his five career receptions in 2004 and didn't catch a pass in 2005. Freeman will certainly battle for the position, and during fall camp last year it appeared he had moved ahead of Carlson for a brief moment. We expect these two to battle for the starting spot this spring, and it will be interesting to see if they can hold of the challenge of a talented freshman enrolling in the summer.
Another freshman, Joey Hiben, also will be in the mix. Hiben actually did play in 2005, logging 6:01 minutes of action, but he likely spent most of the fall running the other team's plays on the scout team. At 6-4, 245 pounds, Hiben will have the size needed by fall to make a push so we'll have to see how he develops. The word out of practice is he's a skilled player who is a pretty good athlete. Can he block? Can he be a guy who can get by linebackers and become a vertical threat? That we don't know.
Finally, true freshman Konrad Reuland will be added to the mix this summer. At 6-6, 240-pounds, Reuland looks lean. He has the frame to easily carry 260 pounds sometime in the near future. Reuland likely won't be confused with Tony Gonzalez anytime soon, but he does have enough speed and quickness to be a serious threat in the passing game. He appears quicker and more athletic than Fasano on film, and he's also a very solid blocker at the high school level. Reuland will certainly suffer some growing pains during fall camp like any freshman, but it will be interesting to see if he can challenge for playing time. If Reuland surfaces early next season and logs some playing time, expect him to be another outstanding tight end for the Irish in the future.
Another thing that needs to be noted is Charlie Weis' philosophy on offense. Weis will always design an offense, a game plan, and his plays around the talent he has on hand. He's made no bones about that in the past.
If Weis doesn't feel he has quality tight ends next season, expect to see their touches diminish in favor of other players he feels he can create match-up problems with. The "genius" of Charlie Weis is knowing what he has on offense, and finding ways of getting the ball in the hands of his best playmakers in areas where he feels he can exploit the other team's weaknesses.
How much the tight ends are involved in the offense in 2005 will depend on how well they perform in the spring and the fall. The blocking aspect at tight end is my only concern as I feel all of Notre Dame's targets can be effective in the passing game. Hopefully they play a large role in the offense in 2006 because that will open up a lot more opportunities for Notre Dame's other playmakers as well.