Carlson in Competiton to Start

Anthony Fasano's decision to depart early for the NFL might have caused some to feel uneasy about the tight end position in 2006 for Notre Dame. Don't tell this to head coach Charlie Weis, who said at Spring Practice Media Day that of all the positions where a starter was being lost, tight end was the least of his worries. That's good news for senior John Carlson.

"With Anthony leaving, obviously there is a void there," Carlson said. "Fortunately, we have some guys that can step in and make some plays. We got Marcus (Freeman) and some other guys. We all are going to get opportunities and that's exciting."

Carlson is not the only one attempting to fill the spot. Freeman, a fifth-year senior, is in the running and, according to Weis, had the best off-season workout performance of anybody on the team. Also, incoming freshman Konrad Reuland, a 6'6", 240-pound five star recruit from Mission Viejo High School in California, will be on campus in June and in the mix for the chance to be the opening game starter at Georgia Tech.

Competition for a position can get intense at times. There will be ample chances for both Carlson and Freeman to shine in spring practice before Reuland gets onto the field in the summer. Carlson sees the race for the starting spot as positive not only for himself but for the team.

"From my perspective, we're teammates and have the same team goals," Carlson said about him and Freeman. "Both of us want to get better. I don't think we view this as a competition because we both want to get better and make plays for the team. I'm looking at it from the perspective that I need to get better. I need to work on a lot of things in my game. I'm sure Marcus is going to do the same thing."

There hasn't been a lot of game chances for either of these two because of Fasano's quality play. Carlson caught seven balls for 56 yards and a touchdown in 2005 while Freeman did not nab a single reception. Freeman has five total catches in his career. Carlson has 13. Tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee will be closely monitoring the progress of both throughout spring practice.

"You have to look at the guys who can handle the situations and who can go out there and perform," Parmalee said. "They need to go out there in practice and give us a reason to say that they deserve the number one spot. Each guy is going to have the opportunity to go out there and contribute. We have some real smart guys that have been in the system. They know the system."

Carlson has some big shoes to fill. Fasano leaves Notre Dame on a high note. He caught a career-high 47 balls for 576 yards and two touchdowns last season. The year before, Fasano hauled in 27 catches. The message: Weis's offensive system is friendly to the tight end position. Whoever starts should be ready for a lot of balls thrown in their direction.

"I know one thing: if I'm a tight end, I'd be happy to be in this offense," Parmalee said. "We utilize the tight end and give them opportunities to make plays. It's been evident this past year and nothing is going to change."

Fasano did more than catch the ball. He was an excellent blocking tight end along the offensive line. His 2005 season was rubber stamped when he was named as one of the three finalists for the John Mackey Award, bestowed to the nation's top tight end. Carlson knows there are differences between his game and Fasano's.

"I'm not Anthony," Carlson admits. "We're different athletes and do things a little differently. I've learned a lot from his example. It was a pleasure playing with him. He did so many things well. He's a physical blocker, ran great routes, caught the ball and competed every play. His whole game was what I take away from him."

High effort and solid performances in spring ball could give Carlson a leg up over Freeman and Reuland. Weis made it clear at Media Day that it's time for the older guys to step up and show why they deserve the spots. The head coach stated that he would not hesitate to put a freshman in the lineup. Weis's philosophy has always been play the best guy regardless of age. Carlson hopes to show the coaching staff his ability this spring.

"Every time I step out on the field, I think I need to prove something," Carlson said. "There are always things that I need to do to get better." Top Stories