Monday, November 13, 2006

He's Got a Knee | by Pat

The Irish offense took a hit when John Carlson went down with a leg injury against Air Force. Noting is 100% certain yet, but Weis isn't expecting Carlson to be back for the rest of the regular season.

“It’s not as bad as we thought it was,” Weis said. “My first report was that he was going to be gone for the year, but we might lose him for the next two games. We might lose him for Army and USC, but we’ll have him back for the bowl game.

“I was encouraged because when they first gave me the initial report, I was like ‘Oh, no.’ They said two to four weeks, so I’m being practical by saying it is a long shot we’ll have him back for USC, but we’ll have him back for whatever game we end up playing in at the end of the season.”
The injury not only will take away one of Brady Quinn's favorite options, but put a damper on Carlson's attempt to become the Jeff Samardzija of 2006; that is to say, a previously unheralded backup emerging in one season as an All-America candidate. Right now Carlson is second in the nation in receiving yards per game to Wisconsin's Travis Beckum, and both have 4 receiving touchdowns. Carlson is also one reception short of passing Anthony Fasano for second-most single season receptions by a tight end, and 176 receiving yards short of Ken MacAfee's mark for single season receiving yardage by a tight end.

Luckily for the Irish, Marcus Freeman should be able to step right in. After Carlson went down, Charlie didn't change a thing in the offense; Freeman snagged a 23-yard touchdown in the 3rd quarter for his first career score. There likely will be some drop-off in production -- Carlson is really, really good -- but tight end is one of the few positions where ND has depth, and the offensive options shouldn't be terribly limited by Carlson's absence. As Charlie said yesterday:
Q: How does your offense change now that Carlson is out?

Charlie Weis: It doesn't change. Despite one of your good players isn't playing, the offense doesn't change. I think that when you're developing young guys, or backups, or depth, the important thing isn't how much they've played, it's are they ready to go when their number is called. And just like yesterday, Marcus was ready to go. Now he's played a lot this year on all our 2-tight end sets, but yesterday's game was featuring one tight end the whole game. Fortunately that was the way it was planned out; if the game plan was designed around two tight ends it would have been a little more difficult. But it wasn't, so John went out, and Marcus went in, and we moved on. I have a lot of confidence in Marcus. It's not like I'm turning to Reuland and Yeatman and saying you're the starters this week. I've got a 5th-year senior in there [Freeman] who's had plenty of reps.

Q: What kind of year has Marcus had for you?

Charlie Weis: He's been solid all year. It's just that a lot of balls haven't come in his direction. A lot of times when a guy doesn't have a whole lot of catches people correlate that with not having a good year. But he's been solid all year. And solid as a blocker all year. That's why we've had so many multiple-tight end packages, because of our confidence in Marcus.

Q: Speaking of multiple tight ends, how do you feel about the two young guys [Reuland & Yeatman] getting more involved in the offense?

Charlie: I really don't have much of a say on that, because they're involved (laughing). We don't panic in that situation. When that happened [Carlson's injury], we get together on the sidelines and say okay, if we go to multiple tight ends, this is what we're going to do. If it's Marcus and Yeatman, this is how we're lining up, if it's Marcus and Reuland, this is how we want them lining up. We did that in about five minutes. And we had plenty of time -- that was in the second quarter, where I could have installed a whole new offense if I wanted to (laughing).
It should also be noted that from Fasano to Carlson to Freeman, perhaps no coach has had his position more ready to play than tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee. Parmalee's name rarely gets mentioned, but since he's come on board, the Notre Dame tight ends have been terrific. And with Konrad Reuland, Will Yeatman, and next year Ragone waiting in the wings, Notre Dame tight ends should remain a force in the coming years.