A Superstar and Some Raw Talent

Continuing along with our series of previews of spring practice, today we'll take a look at the tight end position. Irish head coach Charlie Weis received some great news last month when senior tight end John Carlson decided to return for fifth year, but will we see some young and promising freshmen emerge this spring?

I don't think anyone can argue how much impact senior tight end John Carlson had on Notre Dame's offense last season. Many Irish remember the fine season Anthony Fasano had in 2005 propelling him into the early rounds of the NFL draft. Fasano caught 47 passes for 576 yards and two touchdowns that season.

Carlson equaled and surpassed Fasano's stats this past season and did it in one less game catching 47 passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns. Carlson also tied for the team lead in yards per catch with 13.5 yards per reception.

The 6-foot-6, 255-pound senior opened up so much for the Notre Dame passing game with his ability to run vertical routes, which made the opposition's linebackers and safeties take a step back instead of always playing downhill.

Carlson's presence also helps in the running game, not just with blocking, but also with his threat to make plays deep in the middle of the field. Teams cannot cheat up their linebackers and safeties close to the line of scrimmage with the risk of Carlson running right by them for a big gain in the passing game.

It was obvious both the running game and passing game sputtered when he was injured for the final two games of the regular season.

The good news is he's back, and that not only will help the Irish, it will certainly improve his draft stock as well. Chances are Irish fans will be watching another first round pick on the field in 2007 with Carlson.

When Fasano was still a member of the Irish team, Irish head coach Charlie Weis used a lot of two and three tight end sets. Weis has said numerous times that he's a fan of both sets because it gives you a power look with the ability to also be a passing threat. The Irish were very successful in these sets in 2005, and I'm sure Weis would like to get back to using them more often.

We didn't see a lot of two and three tight end sets last season. My guess is we didn't see it as much because Weis wasn't as confident that this look would be as effective as it had been in the past. Why? One, I'm not sure any of the tight ends on the roster could block like Fasano, and none of the backups were of the same caliber receiving threat as Fasano, at least not that we had previously seen.

Can we expect to see more two and three tight end sets in 2007? The Irish have two talented freshmen who most likely can't wait for spring practice to earn their spot on the field next season.

6-foot-6, 240-pound Konrad Reuland enrolled at Notre Dame as a five-star prospect at tight end from the 2006 recruiting class. Reuland was known as a Fasano-type tight end. He's not a guy who has Carlson's deep threat speed, but he has enough to be effective. He was also known as a guy with good hands and solid technique as a blocker. Many expect him to play early and often for the Irish, but he'll need to add some strength and weight to his 240-pound frame. Early returns have been positive, but he has plenty of competition heading into next season.

The surprise of the 2006 class probably has been Will Yeatman. The San Diego, Calif. native originally committed to Notre Dame as a lacrosse player who would walk on to the Notre Dame football team. The departure of former Irish player Joey Hiben opened up a football scholarship for Yeatman, and now the 6-foot-6, 250-pound prospect has been turning heads on the football field.

In fact, Yeatman was usually the player who came in when the Irish were in three tight end sets in 2006, and we've heard he has a very promising future as a tight end. The question will be, will he out-grow the position?

Many felt Yeatman would eventually eat himself into an offensive tackle. That's still possible, but we hear he's a pretty darn good tight end with surprising quickness and hands.

Don't be surprised if Yeatman ends up with the No. 2 tight end spot next season. He has the natural size already, and will certainly add a few pounds over the winter, spring and summer. Weis needs another solid blocking tight end to help out with the running game for 2007, and Yeatman just might be that guy.

The development of both Reuland and Yeatman will be critical for 2007 I believe. With a brand new quarterback, two new starters at receiver, and a new halfback, the Irish are likely going to have to rely on the running game much more next season.

Fortunately, tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee appears to be both an outstanding coach and recruiter. It seems all of his players improve each year, and we've heard very good things about Parmalee as a coach. All the players seem to really respect him, so it appears these young freshmen are in good hands. You'll know if Parmalee did a good job by how much you see Yeatman, Reuland and maybe even incoming freshmen Mike Ragone on the field next season.

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