Time for John Carlson to Be Dallas Clark in Seattle's Two-TE Offense

Chris CluffCorrespondent IIAugust 19, 2010

INDIANAPOLIS - OCTOBER 04:  John Carlson #89 of the the Seattle Seahawks runs with the ball during the NFL game against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on October 4, 2009 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Few teams make extensive use of two tight ends in the NFL anymore, but the Seahawks plan to make it their base offense under new coordinator Jeremy Bates.

They opened with it against Tennessee and ended up throwing to tight ends nine times, with six completions, in 37 attempts. That’s a quarter of the passes to tight ends.

Although top tight end John Carlson was thrown to only once, the eight other passes to his position are a sign of things to come.

T.J. Houshmandzadeh thinks he should be the Hawks’ top receiver, but the reality is that Carlson should be that guy. He should be Seattle's Dallas Clark.

Entering his third season, Carlson already is the best tight end the Seahawks have ever had. He set the team record with 55 catches as a rookie in 2008. In 34 years, no other Seattle tight end had ever caught 50 balls in a season. Then, in what many considered a disappointing sophomore season, Carlson still caught 51 (ranking 14th in the league among tight ends).

Carlson was not utilized more last year because he was needed to help a porous offensive line try to protect Matt Hasselbeck (fat lot of good it did).

This year, the Hawks brought in Chris Baker to do the bulk of the extra blocking. But Baker also is a solid receiver, having caught 41 passes for the Jets in 2007.

With the Hawks running two-TE sets, Carlson and Baker could emerge as one of the best tandems in the league.

Because not many teams utilize two receiving tight ends, it could turn into a great advantage.

Bates used it in Denver, where Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham combined for over 70 catches in both 2007 and 2008.

“We majored in two tights in Denver,” Bates told Clare Farnsworth of Seahawks.com in May. “It really neutralizes the defense, because you can be 50 percent run, 50 percent pass.”

The last couple of years, only about half a dozen teams have tried to cultivate a passing game using two tight ends.

Chicago’s Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark have been the best tandem. They combined for 95 catches in 2008 and 79 last season. (That will probably change under Mike Martz.)

With Vernon Davis emerging in San Francisco last season, he and Delanie Walker replaced Olsen and Clark as the league’s top TE duo, combining for 99 catches (Davis had 78).

Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley, another emerging talent, and Donald Lee combined for 92 (Finley had 55).

For Tennessee, Bo Scaife and Alge Crumpler combined for 82 catches in 2008 and 72 last season, but that tandem has been split up.

Even though Chris Cooley was hobbled last season, he and Fred Davis combined for 77 catches for Washington. They could be big targets for Donovan McNabb this season.

This year, Carlson and Baker could join those top tandems. Carlson should catch at least 60 passes, with Baker adding 20-25.

With the Seahawks running so much double-tight, it wouldn’t be a shock to see them keep both Cameron Morrah and rookie Anthony McCoy, if those youngsters show they are worth it.

But it all boils down to Carlson, whom the Seahawks plan to use all over the place, including split out as a receiver and in the backfield as a kind of H-back.

“John has shown us he can play all those positions,” Bates told Farnsworth in May. “He’s flexible. He can run all the routes. He has great hands and he can block. So it’s exciting.”

The Seahawks talked about throwing to Carlson last year, too, but Bates has a history of using his tight ends, and after the Hawks targeted the position nine times in the opener, it looks like Carlson and Baker will indeed be key weapons this year.

The Hawks basically pulled off a trade of defensive linemen this week, sending Lawrence Jackson to Detroit just two days after acquiring Kentwan Balmer from San Francisco. Taken together, the deals amount to a swap of former first-round picks and late-round 2011 picks.

Jackson was a reach by Tim Ruskell in the first round of the 2008 draft, and the former USC player obviously doesn’t fit his old coach’s defense in Seattle.

Instead, he now has a chance to fit in with the Detroit Sea Lions, who now have six recent Seahawks—Jackson, Nate Burleson, Julian Peterson, Maurice Morris, Will Heller and Rob Sims.

The Hawks have to hope Balmer is not the hypersensitive soul he was rumored to be in San Francisco. If he did indeed ask out because he couldn’t handle Mike Singletary’s intense approach or teammates ribbing about Balmer being a first-round bust, the Seahawks are not likely to want to keep him either. The NFL is no place for the meek-minded.

However, if there were other things at play by the Bay and he just needed a fresh start, he could be a nice addition.

It’s not a surprise that he didn’t work out in San Francisco. When he was coming out of North Carolina in 2008, he was considered a boom-or-bust tweener. No one was sure whether he was a 3-4 end or a 4-3 tackle.

Now, the 6-5, 315-pounder is an end in Carroll’s 3l3 scheme (as we call it: 3 EL 3 or 3 One 3), which is comprised of three big linemen, a hybrid end/linebacker pass rusher and three regular linebackers. If Balmer can show well enough behind Red Bryant, the Seahawks could have a nice little line in the making.

They have no superstars right now, but this group could be pretty serviceable in 2010: tackles Brandon Mebane, Colin Cole, Kevin Vickerson and Craig Terrill (possibly Quinn Pitcock); five-technique ends Bryant and Balmer (maybe rookie E.J. Wilson); and Leo rusher Chris Clemons, with Nick Reed, Ricky Foley or rookie Dexter Davis behind Clemons.

The Seahawks need help at offensive tackle. Go Outside The Press Box to find out why they should check with the San Diego Chargers (them again!).


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