Monday, December 17, 2007

2007 Review: Tight End

Coming into the 2007 football season, everyone expected All American TE John Carlson to have a huge season for the Irish. With the graduation of Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight, fans expected John Carlson to become the leading receiver in the Irish offense. While Carlson did not set the world on fire catching footballs, he still wound up with a solid season of 40 receptions for 372 yards and 3 TDs. While this is a noticeable dip from Carlson's 2006 stats of 634 receiving yards, many factors contributed to the decrease in productivity. First, the Irish were breaking in a new QB(s). Second, the Irish lost their top 2 WRs to graduation so Carlson became the focus of opposing defenses. Third, and most significant in my view, the Irish offensive line was a sieve for much of the year and Carlson was required to stay in and help with pass protection.

One area in which Carlson did excel was leadership. It would have been very easy for the 5th year senior captain to demand the football or gripe about having to block so much, or panic about his draft status as a result of the Irish struggles. None of that happened. Carlson worked extremely hard throughout the season and always kept a positive attitude. He also served as a needed mentor/big brother to Jimmy Clausen, which really helped the freshman QB make the transition to starting QB and aided in Jimmy's development.

Based off his entire collegiate body of work, John Carlson is a first day NFL draft pick. I still believe he is the top TE in the draft and nothing I saw this year changed that opinion. The kid from USC at TE is extremely talented, but I believe Carlson's game adapts really well to the NFL. John catches the ball well, even in traffic, he runs good routes most of the time, and he gives effort in his blocking. Where he needs to improve is in his consistency in the blocking game. While his effort was admirable this season, his technique as a blocker was inconsistent. Sometimes he would absolutely maul his guy, but other times he would lose leverage, take a poor angle, or not sustain his blocks long enough. Overall, though, John Carlson was probably the strongest link in an otherwise anemic Irish offense this season.

Backup TE Will Yeatman saw extensive action this season as a true sophomore. This will greatly benefit the Irish program next season. Will was probably the best blocker I saw this season on the Irish squad. He really does a nice job playing aggressive and engaging defenders rather than waiting for them to engage first. While Will likely does not have the speed to stretch the field like John Carlson, he did show that he has reliable hands and can make some plays catching the football. Because of his lacrosse background, I think Will has some good footwork. With Carlson graduating, Will is going to be the elder statesman of the TE group beginning next year.

Mike Ragone showed me much more this season than I expected. Coming into the season, I thought Ragone would be a huge player for the Irish in the future, but I thought he was a guy who was going to need a couple of years to grow into the position, much like John Carlson did. Coming off a serious knee injury and undersized for the position from a weight standpoint, I was realy encouraged by what I saw of Ragone this year. You want to know what impressed me most? Not his much publicized speed, not his solid hands (which we didn't see as much of this year as we will next) but rather it was his attitude. Everyone is always asking me where the Irish will get their nasty attitude from. The answer? Look at Mike Ragone. This kid was extremely undersized this year and it hurt him, but he didn't back down from anyone. If you go back and watch the tape of the plays he was in, you will usually find Ragone in just about every pile and usually scratching and clawing at his guy until the whistle. He also plays with a little bit of that "Jersey attitude" that meshes real well with Charlie. Ragone's development also bumped Konrad Reuland a notch down the depth chart, which prompted him to transfer. Plain and simple, Ragone needs an outstanding winter and spring in the weight room. He has the frame to add the size and he will certainly need every last workout and protein shake he can handle. For a comparison, take a look at John Carlson as a freshman (he looked like a basketball player) and look at him now. That is the transformation Mike needs to undergo. Because of the Irish season, there are many candidates for a breakout season next year. However, for those who have asked me who I think is one player who could bust out next year that we didn't hear much from this year, my answer is Mike Ragone.

With the graduation of John Carlson and the transfer of Konrad Reuland, the Irish are going to be very thin at TE in the spring, and even more so if Will Yeatman misses time again for lacrosse. The good news is that reinforcements are on the way with an exciting group of TE recruits in Kyle Rudolph and Joe Fauria. As long as Charlie Weis is the coach, the Irish offense will always feature the TE prominently and the Irish will be able to build on their national reputation for attracting and producing top TEs.

Next Up: Offensive Line

No comments: