One statistic that stands out about the tight end production in 2002, not one tight end caught a touchdown pass last year. The offense did complete 24 passes to the tight end but that is hardly a number for a defensive coordinator to get worried about.
Nobody is sure yet if Gary Godsey will return for a 5th year at tight end. Godsey was the starter last year and did a good job for his first year in this offense. He caught 16 passes last year for 155 yards. The staff would probably like to improve on the number of receptions and the yardage per catch out of their starting tight end. Godsey did do a nice job of blocking and could be back for a 5th year.
Billy Palmer was the back up to Godsey last year. Palmer had one catch for four yards and I am sure they would like to improve on that statistic as well. He has the size to move to offensive line and was a dominating blocker in high school. I have not heard he will be moving but it would not surprise me if he did move to offensive line.
Jared Clark was used in spot duty and appeared to be the most athletic out of the three. Clark caught seven passes for 104 yards—or 14.9 yards per reception. These are the type of numbers you hope to see in a tight end. He was used mainly in the passing game and will need to improve his blocking to become a complete tight end. I expect to see him used much more in 2003.
Anthony Fasano didn't appear in any games last year but I have heard he has been impressive with his route running and his ability to get open and catch the ball. I expect Fasano to stay at tight end for the near future.
Marcus Freeman really impressed me in fall camp. He is a very athletic guy for his size and runs smoothly for a big guy. The temptation will be to move him to the defensive line where he could help at defensive end or interior defensive line. He is a great athlete so I would put him anywhere where he could get on the field early. I would guess if Freeman is not at least 3rd on the depth chart after spring, he will be moved to defense.
Notre Dame will have two freshmen report in the fall that will represent the future of the Notre Dame tight end, players that are more athletic and can get down field. Greg Olsen looks to be ready to play right away. He has a big frame—6-6, 245 pounds—an he can stretch a defense. Olsen is also a very good blocker so he could play right away. John Carlson might be just as athletic but will need to add a little size and work a little on his blocking. Both players should see a lot of time in the future.
Why is it so important to this offense to have a certain type of tight end? The tight end is used in various roles. He is a "hot receiver" at certain times. He has designed routes where he is the first read for the quarterback. He could be used solely in blocking or as a decoy to confuse the defense. This offense needs a tight end that can get past the linebackers. If a tight end can get past the linebackers, he then becomes a problem for both the linebacker and the safety. Any coach wants a tight end that can become a problem for both the linebackers and the safety and wants that safety worried about the tight end down the middle.
The final word on Godsey has not become public yet. I wouldn't want to guess if he is coming back or not. If he does come back, Notre Dame will have seven tight ends on the roster for 2003. I expect at least one of them to move soon.
The future appears to be Clark for two more years with the others trying to unseat him. I expect Olsen to challenge soon because he is physically ready to play and has all the physical skills needed. Palmer and Clark should have two years left. Fasano, Freeman, Olsen and Carlson will all have 4 years to play in the fall.
The good news with the numbers is that the Irish have a lot of depth. The other good news is within that depth lies a lot of talent. The combination of both should allow for a couple of players to move to another position where they could use some extra depth.
Tight end appears to be stocked with plenty of numbers and talent. The important thing is to get more receptions out of this position and hopefully a few touchdowns next year. If the Irish can get 35-40 receptions out of this group and 2-3 touchdowns, they have improved dramatically.