Carlson Makes His Return

Now that John Carlson is back on the practice field, roommate Ryan Harris has tried to be there for his friend. Take care of the little things, anything his buddy needs.

"I tease him all the time," Harris said with a laugh. "I ask him if he's sore, if he needs a band-aid. But he's a tough guy, one of the toughest guys on the team, and we are really happy to see him moving around."

Carlson was moving around well in practice this week as the 11th-ranked Irish (10-2) prepare for the Jan. 3 Sugar Bowl and No. 4 LSU (10-2). This is his first week back since the knee injury suffered against Air Force, Nov. 11. The Irish tight end missed the team's final two games.

"I felt pretty helpless standing there on the sideline," Carlson said. "Not being able to practice, not being able to play in games is frustrating.

"It's just great to be out there playing again, practicing, running around out there with the guys. Hopefully I can do some things on the field."

Before he went down, Carlson was definitely doing things on the field. The senior was the nation's most prolific tight end, hauling in 46 passes for 621 yards (13.5 avg.) and four touchdowns.

A finalist for the Mackey Award, given to the nation's best tight end, Carlson very well could've won that and some other postseason honors. But when he didn't suit up in the Irish's final two games, Carlson kind of became a forgotten man.

"It's all speculation," Carlson stated. "We don't know what would've happened if I would've played in those games, or if my stats would've been any different. That stuff really doesn't matter. The thing that disappointed me the most was that I couldn't contribute to the team. I felt like I was failing the team by not being out there."

Carlson went down on the third series of the first quarter against Air Force. At the time, he wasn't sure about the degree of his injury.

"I knew something wasn't right, I could feel that, he said. "I didn't know what the extent of the injury was at the time.

"Disappointment and frustration. It's hard to do all the work in the off-season, put in the work with this team, practice and play all the games up to the end of the season and not be able to finish it out. I was disappointed that I couldn't play and frustrated that I couldn't contribute to the team.

Now that Carlson is back and able to contribute, he says he hasn't really had any problems back on the field. Quarterback Brady Quinn and his favorite target over the middle and on third down, have been in rhythm since Carlson has stepped back onto the field.

"That's something that we've built over time, it's been a gradual process to develop that relationship," Carlson explained. "I don't think you can really lose that completely, so it's not like we are starting over. Obviously things are a little rusty here and there, but I feel like it is coming a long well.

The Sugar Bowl could be Carlson's last game in an Irish uniform. He wasn't tipping his hand at all, Thursday morning.

"It's one of those situations that we're not going to talk about it until after the bowl game," Carlson stated.

Carlson did touch on the eight-game bowl losing streak, and how the Irish are perceived as a team that can't win a big game.

"We know that it exists but our focus is LSU," Carlson said about the bowl losing streak. "We can't control the previous bowl games.

"I feel like we've played in a number of big games. Whether it's something we have to overcome, I'm not sure. I'm approaching this game like it's another game on the schedule. I don't feel anymore significant burden because it's a big game, it's a bowl game, it's LSU. I'm approaching it the same way and I think our team is approaching it the same way. It's another game we need to be ready and our goal is to win."

Carlson has often been called out as a fiery guy on the practice field, yet when he was injured the past two weeks, he remained in a good mood. Much to the liking of Harris, who didn't have to tip toe around the apartment.

"John is a positive guy and he knew with the proper rehab he could come back," Harris said. "I think the thing that hurt him the most was that it happened before the USC game, and he was really looking forward to being a part of that game and really helping this team out."

Just like Harris is trying to help out his boy with ice, a band-aid, or anything else he may need.


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