Big Question: Breakout year for Carlson?

Although he caught 51 passes for 574 yards last season, tight end John Carlson was an under-the-radar player on a 5-11 Seattle Seahawks team. But changes in the Seahawks’ offense under new head coach Pete Carroll and injuries at wide receiver could allow Carlson to have a breakout year.

Wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is only at 80 percent coming off sports hernia surgery, and fellow wideout Deion Branch still can’t shake lingering problems from three knee operations. Plans are already being made to use more two-tight end sets this season because of the team’s enhanced use of the Alex Gibbs zone-blocking scheme.

But Carlson’s skills for getting downfield and catching the ball could allow him to be even more involved in the passing game this season. Last year, the line was so bad that Carlson had to block more than he did when he caught 55 passes for 627 yards as a rookie in 2008. Seattle added veteran Chris Baker to help as a backup tight end and a main cog in the two-tight end set. In the draft, the Seahawks got lucky when USC tight end Anthony McCoy fell to them in the sixth round. Both will help take blocking pressure off Carlson.

Carlson, who has 106 catches and 12 touchdowns in two seasons, is second only to Vernon Davis at tight end in the division. If quarterback Matt Hasselbeck stays healthy and the line does well with Russell Okung and Ben Hamilton on the left side, Carlson should be free to catch more passes and score more touchdowns.