The position is coached by Bernie Parmalee. The sixth-year coach has not let the talented bunch sour during his three years at Notre Dame. Under Parmalee's tutelage and excelling in Weis's offense, two of the three most productive seasons for a tight end in Irish history have occurred. This included Anthony Fasano's 47-catch year in 2005 and Carlson's 47-reception, 634 yards and four scores in 2006.
Weis's system catapulted Fasano into a second-round selection by the Dallas Cowboys and has made Carlson one of the top tight ends for next year's draft. The opportunities, including multiple tight end sets and playing time as a freshman, keeps drawing high-caliber players at the position to South Bend.
"We use a lot of tight ends in our packages, especially if you an athletic tight end," Parmalee said. "It's not just five yard routes. It's like they're glorified wide receivers, in a sense. We want guys that can stretch the field and not just be a decoy. We want them to be a part of the game plan.
"In high school, there's a lot more teams throwing the ball. That's what they're used to. In the league, you see more tight ends that are athletic and offensive coordinators will use them a lot more in the passing game. This system is tight end friendly. You'll have opportunities to make plays."
Parmalee and the tight ends he coaches knows this isn't an offense where they'll catch just 10-20 passes a season. It all starts in 2007 with Carlson, who along with his top-notch play on the field is one of the hardest workers off the field. The fifth-year senior should challenge Ken MacAfee's single season reception record for a tight end of 54 set back in 1977. Carlson will be a solid target for whichever inexperienced quarterback takes the snaps.
"This year, John has gotten better," Parmalee said. "He's a student of the game. When we had Fasano here, he was behind Fasano. When he got his opportunity, he took it. John works hard. He never settles on what he did in the past. He wants to get better each and every day."
Carlson has added responsibility in 2007. The fifth-year senior was named one of the four captains on the Irish team. Carlson also has to watch over a young group of tight ends below him on the depth chart. Reuland and Will Yeatman are sophomores while Mike Ragone is a freshman. Carlson is not shrieking his leadership duties.
"He's stepping up," Parmalee said. "He's more vocal than he was last year. When things go wrong, he's like another coach out there. He's trying to help the younger guys, knowing that he was there before. He understands the more that he can do as a player and teaching those guys, the better we'll be."
Carlson's guidance should help both Reuland and Yeatman, who are in contention for the second tight end spot. Both will see action in Weis's multiple tight end sets. But who will fill the job Marcus Freeman performed last year behind Carlson, when the fifth-year senior caught nine balls for 98 yards and two scores? Weis said on Monday that he feels a lot better about the two than last year when Reuland and Yeatman were inexperienced freshmen. Neither caught a pass last season but both saw limited action. With positive gains in spring ball and training camp almost over, the two sophomores are ready to contribute.
"They know the game," Parmalee said. "They understand the game. They understand the schemes. That's huge. They're both athletic and can catch the ball. Really, their strengths are understanding the concepts and understanding the calls. You have to know what the line is thinking. You have to know what the receivers are thinking. When you can that, it's a real benefit."
Parmalee said there hasn't been a final decision on who'll the second tight end will be. Adding more depth to the rotation is freshman Mike Ragone, a 6-5, 230-pound native of Cherry Hill, NJ. Ragone might be the fastest of the bunch and adds another threat in the passing game for the Irish.
"He's doing a good job," Parmalee said of Ragone. "We're feeding him a little bit at a time. He's doing a good job of taking mental reps when he's not in the game. I ask him questions when he standing by me. He's pretty sharp."