When Anthony Fasano declared himself eligible for the NFL draft after last season, every Irish fan knew that there would be a big void at the tight end position in his absence, leaving some large shoes to fill. Last year Fasano caught 45 passes for 564 yards and 2 touchdowns contributing to one of the most explosive offenses in Notre Dame history. Besides his obvious skills catching the ball, he was a do it all type of player, as he was also recognized as one of college football’s top blocking tight ends. Anthony was a finalist last year for the John Mackey award, given annually to college football’s top tight end, and was also a 2nd round draft choice in April’s NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys.
It is obvious that the players below will all have to pair together and contribute to this offense in Fasano’s absence. Charlie Weis has been known throughout his coaching career as a guy who loved to use his tight ends, be it to protect the passer or to catch passes. Players like John Carlson and Marcus Freeman will have to step their games up to fill the void at tight end. Chances are if they do this, the Irish offense won’t skip a beat and continue to put up solid numbers, pair that with what looks like an improved defense and a national title might be at the end of the rainbow for these domers.
John Carlson – (Sr) 6’6”, 250
In 2005 Carlson started in 5 games opposite of Fasano when Notre Dame opened up in a two tight end set. He caught 7 passes all of last season for a total of 56 yards including his first career touchdown in the 49-28 blowout of Purdue. He stood out as an above average special teams player as well, and was named the special teams player of the week for the Michigan State game week 3.
With Fasano now wearing Dallas Blue and White, Carlson is expected to step in and start for Notre Dame this season. Charlie Weis likes the fact that Carlson is a big guy at 250 pounds who can still run great routes. He has soft, reliable hands that will catch anything in his zip code.
While this is an obvious drop off in experience at the tight end position from Fasano to Carlson, it is nothing to panic about. Many feel that John will step in and play good football at the tight end position. He is an above average blocker at the position but coaches would still like to see improvement in that department during fall practice. Because he will be surrounded by two speedy, explosive wide receivers, a threat at halfback, and an all-American quarterback, Carlson may have a breakout season much like Jeff Samardzija did last year for the Irish. Expect him to be a big time red zone threat due to his size, and even when he does not catch tons of balls during the duration of a game, know that he is contributing in helping Darius Walker through holes with his blocking ability.
Marcus Freeman – (5th) – 6’3″, 245
Marcus was in the starting lineup during the season opener at Pittsburgh last season when the Irish came out in a 3 tight end set, but that would be the highlight of his season offensively, as he did not catch a single pass in 2005. This was a shame after he showed much promise during the previous season, starting in 6 games for Notre Dame opposite of Anthony Fasano. He was starting to emerge as a reliable #2 tight end option behind Anthony until he was injured in a game against Stanford. He really hasn’t been the same since, but the good news is that he is a favorite of Coach Charlie Weis. Weis called Freeman coming into camp “by far the most improved player” he had seen on the team. Freeman is also a guy who is not afraid of contact and will give up his body to catch a ball for the good of the team. He has a great work ethic and is poised to break out in this his 5th year at Notre Dame.
Coming out of high school, Freeman and Fasano were ranked fairly evenly ranked with both being four star recruits. Fasano however developed much quicker and was a mainstay in the Irish offense for three seasons while Freeman struggled to make his mark. 2005 will be Freeman’s last chance to make an impact for the Irish and the athletic tight end is more than capable.
Konrad Reuland – (Fr) – 6’6″, 239
Konrad Reuland was one of the most sought after tight ends in recruiting this past season, and Notre Dame was fortunate enough to land the 6’6” California native. He’s a huge target with great speed and is the type of tight end that will not only catch balls underneath like an Anthony Fasano, but he can really get down field and catch the deep ball when called upon as well. His hands are like glue and he never loses concentration of what the task at hand is. The knock on Konrad is that he is not a very good blocker.
Reuland will be a major player at the tight end position for the Irish in the future, but will need to improve his strength and blocking first. With the relative lack of depth at tight end, Reuland will challenge for time this year, but will have to fight with fellow freshman Will Yeatmen for playing time.
From a pure talent and potential standpoint however, few compare to Reuland as he has all the ability to become the next great Notre Dame tight end.
Will Yeatmen – (Fr) – 6’6″, 255
Will came was supposed to come to South Bend on a lacrosse scholarship, but when fellow tight end Joey Hiben left the team last year, there was an extra football scholarship available and it didn’t take Charlie Weis much time to award it to Yeatmen. Will has become somewhat of a blocking specialist at tight end over his high school career. His sophomore year a shoulder injury prevented him from playing tight end, so he was moved to offensive tackle where he learned priceless blocking techniques that made him a far better tight end in the long run.
Don’t be fooled though, this guy is no slouch catching the ball either. He is not a burner and not the athlete that a Konrad Reuland is, but he is still another huge target at 6’6 255 and has enormous hands. Yeatmen even said that he could hold a ruler between his pinky and his thumb. Now you try and do that, and you’ll see how big your hands have to be in order to pull that off.
Since arriving to camp, Yeatmen has caught the attention of coaches and fans alike with his size. For a freshman tight end, Yeatmen is huge and has the size to play right away. Reuland came to Notre Dame with much more hype, but Yeatmen might actually see the field earlier than his classmate because of his blocking ability and size.