I have to break your stones a little bit with my first question man. You've got a baby face for such a big guy. What's your secret? Are you using some anti-aging cream or something?
(Laughing) "You know what, I believe in facial moisturizers. Those are very important to keep your face looking young and I also credit my Scandinavian heritage. It's probably more the second one than the first though."
Anthony Fasano left some big shoes to fill at tight end when he left for the NFL and you had to step in to fill that role. You obviously ended up doing very well, but did you feel any added pressure knowing you were replacing a player of his caliber?
"You know, when Anthony left I had a tremendous amount of respect for him and still do. He's a phenomenal player and like you said he left some big shoes to fill, but the way I approached it was as an opportunity to showcase my talents and my ability and prove to people that I put the time in and was capable of kind of filling that void. At no point was my goal to fill Anthony's shoes though. I'm a different player, so I wanted to do the best that I can do. I tried not to compare myself to Anthony and do the things that I could do best."
Coming into your senior year you were thought of by many people to be the best tight end in the country and the front runner for the Mackey Award, however Notre Dame had a lot of problems on offense with a lot of youngsters around you. Was it disappointing for you not being able to have the season you were capable of?
"By far the most disappointing part of the season for me was all of the losses. We have a lot of pride at this university and on this football team and to go through the season and play as poorly as we did was frustrating and disappointing, especially after the offseason we had. I really felt that we worked even harder last offseason prior than the four years I was here, so I had high hopes for the season, but things didn't work out the way we wanted them to. I am proud of the way that our team continued to work hard and fight in practice, but the product on the field obviously wasn't what it was supposed to be and we as players did not hold up our end of the bargain, but I think we did show character."
Jimmy Clausen was such a heralded player coming into South Bend and had a rough season with a young offensive line and injuries. You've seen him up close and personal obviously. What do you think the future holds for him and the rest of that offensive group?
"You know, I only got to spend a half a year with Jimmy. From the time I spent with him I know he's an incredible talent. He's got the skills required to be a good quarterback. He's a competitor, even throughout this season when we weren't doing well he was the guy that was getting up and talking crap to opposing defensive linemen and never backed down, so I like that in a quarterback. I also know he works hard in the classroom, watching film and in the weight room. He gained about 15 or 20 pounds in the offseason. From my perspective he has all the tools to be a very good quarterback here and I wish him the best."
At the NFL Combine you had what some called a disappointing workout, but then turned around at your Pro Day and improved on those numbers greatly. I know there were some issues behind the scenes that led to that Combine performance, so why don't you walk our readers through that to fill them in.
"Sure, unfortunately prior to the Senior Bowl I got sick. It was some sort or parasite or intestinal infection and it was pretty nasty. It was like having the flu for a week in a half, so I really couldn't eat anything and I lost about 17 pounds in that timeframe, so I couldn't go to the Senior Bowl. I really didn't eat normal foods for about three weeks, so the weeks leading up to the Combine I just worked hard to get my weight and my strength back which I did for the most part, but I wasn't where I wanted to be yet. My vertical and 40-yard dash were much worse then I anticipated, but fortunately I had my Pro Day and put up the numbers that I was expecting being fully healthy, so that was good."
I know Tommy Zbikowski thinks he's a tough guy and all with his boxing matches, but you've got seven inches and about 40 pounds on him. What do you think about setting up a little boxing match with him on pay per view?
(Laughing) "Are we talking straight up boxing or mixed martial arts? If we're going to be boxing I'm not going to take that fight, but if it's going to be a brawl or some mixed martial arts I would be more apt to take that challenge. That way I could just tackle him and get him on the ground, but if we're standing up I think he's got the advantage despite my reach."
Not a lot of people may know this, but you were a McDonald's preseason All-American as a senior in high school for basketball, won three state titles and were an excellent player at center. How much do you think your time spent on the basketball court helped you at tight end?
"I think it was really valuable. I think the power forward position in basketball and the tight end position in football require the same skills. You need to be a physical player, you need to have good ball skills and hand eye coordination obviously. Footwork is important in both and you need to have that nasty attitude at times. I really feel basketball helped me on the football field."
Right now we have a 2nd round grade on you at www.scoutsnotebook.com. What have you been hearing about where you may be drafted and what teams have been looking at you? Have you worked out with any teams and do you have any private visits set up at this point?
"Honestly I have no idea where I'll be drafted. In terms of teams that have looked at me I interviewed with 19 teams at the Combine, I had a private workout with the Atlanta Falcons and a meeting afterwards and then took a visit to Buffalo."
Obviously it will be a few more years with that face of yours before you can buy beer for your NFL teammates, so what else do you think you bring to the table for an NFL team and on the flipside, what do you need to work on to become a more complete tight end?
(Laughing) "At this point I feel I'm a better receiver then I am a blocker, but that being said I'm a very willing blocker and understand that's part of the tight end's role and I enjoy that part of it. I feel that I can improve my fundamentals in blocking in terms of hand placement, bringing my hips through to be more powerful and my footwork could always get better. Really I know that I need to improve every facet of my game to be a good player at the next level, but at this point I feel that I can contribute best as a receiver."
Coach Weis has had a lot of success with tight ends in the past with guys like Anthony Fasano, Mark Bavaro, Benjamin Watson, Daniel Graham, Ben Coates and Christian Fauria and it looks like you're now next in line. How much do you think working with Coach Weis helped prepare you to get to this point?
"Those are some good tight ends. Working with him was incredibly significant, to be a part of his system and work under him and to have Coach Bernie Parmalee my position coach. I learned a great deal about football from those guys and am grateful to have an opportunity to play under those guys for three years."
Being from Minnesota, did you grow up a Randy Moss and Vikings fan?
"I grew up liking a lot of teams and the Vikings were definitely one of them."
Speaking of Randy Moss, have you ever used the phrase, "straight cash, homey"? (If you don't get it, search the internet)
(Laughing) "You know, I don't recall using that phrase, but I'll ask my fiancée if I throw it around. I don't have any cash right now, so I think that's what is inhibiting me from using that phrase. I'm still a poor college kid right now."
Was there any safety that you really feared when catching a pass over the middle?
"I don't recall specific names, but we play a very tough schedule against teams like Michigan, USC, Michigan State, Purdue, Penn State and the Big Ten they all have hard hitting safeties. I've definitely been hit hard by a lot of safeties from a lot of different teams and you can throw in linebackers too. My approach is that you know you're going to get hit over the middle anyway, so just catch the ball and don't worry about the hit coming."
Last question, have you talked to Brady Quinn about the draft process and what advice has he given you? Also, do you ever pick on him for having more commercials then NFL pass attempts?
(Laughing) "Let me address the commercials question first. I can't really make fun of Brady at this point in time, but I'm impressed with all the commercials he's gotten and he always looks great in every commercial. He must be using some facial moisturizer as well. I talk to Brady every once in a while through text messages, but I'm pretty close with Ryan Harris and he's given me some advice on the process and some words of wisdom and it's been nice to have someone to lean on in Ryan through the process."
Notre Dame fans often use the frame "Notre Dame man" when talking about their players and Carlson fits that bill in a big way. He came off as a very intelligent, mature, well-spoken and down to earth young man and was one of the best interviews I've had to date. He represents himself, his teammates and his university extremely well and has a bright future in the NFL.
Matt Alkire is the Co-Founder of scoutsnotebook.com and is also the Northeast Recruiting Analyst for Scout.com, working in high school football. The draft website is completely free and has ranked as one of the top sites nationally on a yearly basis in terms of quality and accuracy.
Q&A: John Carlson
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