The innovative use of two-tight sets by Seattle Seahawks

The innovative use of two-tight sets by Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates puts pressure on opposing defenses by putting John Carlson in a number of roles.
It’s second-and-short, and the Seahawks are showing two-tight end personnel in the huddle.
A running play to pick up the first down, right? Not necessarily, which is the beautiful schemer aspect of the way offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates uses twin tight ends.

Bates did it with productive panache as an assistant coach with the Denver Broncos, as Tony Scheffler and Daniel Graham combined for 72 receptions in 2008 and 73 in 2007. He did it again last season as the offensive coordinator on Pete Carroll’s staff at USC, where Anthony McCoy averaged 20.8 yards on 22 receptions.

He’s going to do it again this season, when he has John Carlson and Chris Baker to mix and match, as well as McCoy and Cameron Morrahto complement them.

Jordan Babineaux, who started at free safety last season and is competing for the strong safety job this summer, already knows the secret to why Bates’ two-tight groupings will present problems for opposing defenses.

“The thing is, it’s not really two tight ends when you put John Carlson out there,” Babineaux said Saturday between practices at Bing Training Camp. “Because they can line him up and do a number of things with him, which allows them to run the same plays they normally run out of three-receiver/one-tight end personnel.

“That gives them a lot of flexibility in that two-tight end set.”

Or as fellow strong safety Lawyer Milloy put it, “It definitely poses a challenge for us as a defense. It’s not just saying, ‘Oh, it’s two tight ends in there.’ Because it’s John Carlson in there, and we have to figure out where they’re hiding him.”

Trying to find Carlson while watching a Seahawks practice is the pigskin equivalent of playing Where’s Waldo? Carlson will line up in the slot. Or flanked to the outside. Or as an H-back. Or in the backfield. Heck, sometimes he’s even where the tight end is supposed to be – just off a tackle’s outside shoulder.

“It can make a defense maybe be one step late, just while figuring out where he is and where he might be going,” Milloy said. “It can really create problems for a defense because John is a special athlete.”

Carlson has caught 55 and 51 passes in his first two seasons since being drafted in the second round in 2008. He holds the franchise single-season records at the position for receptions, receiving yards (627 in ’08) and touchdown catches (seven last year). But those could be scratching-the-surface numbers if Bates has his way.

The past few days, while the other three tight ends have been working on their blocking technique with position coach Pat McPherson, Carlson has been in the receiving drill with the wide-outs.

“That shows exactly their mentality when he’s in the game,” Babineaux said with a smile. “John is a sure-handed guy and a big target for the quarterback.”

Not to mention part of a new and growing breed at the position – an emphasis-on-pass-catching group that includes the Colts’ Dallas Clark (100 receptions and 10 TDs last season), the Cowboys’ Jason Witten (94), the Falcons’ Tony Gonzalez (83 and six), the Chargers’ Antonio Gates (79 and eight), the 49ers’ Vernon Davis (78 and 13), the Bucs’ Kellen Winslow (77), the Eagles’ Brent Celek (76 and eight), the Raiders’ Zach Miller (66) and the Vikings’ Visanthe Shinacoe (56 and 11).

“When I first came into the league, tight ends were blockers,” said Milloy, who is in his 15th season and with his fourth NFL team. “Now, they’re more athletic and becoming a big part of the offense.

“We’re very lucky that we have one guy who has the potential to be one of the better tight ends in the league in John Carlson. He’s big enough and strong enough to block, but fast enough and limber enough to be a receiver.”

The arrival of Baker in free agency to handle the more traditional tight-end duties is another large piece of the puzzle that is featuring Carlson is so many roles.

“The thing is that Baker can do all three things, as well,” Babineaux said. “He can block. He can catch the ball. He can run after the catch. It’s going to be real good for use offensively to utilize that package we have in the two-tight end sets.”

Also in the mix are Morrah, a seventh-round pick last year, and McCoy, a sixth-round pick this year.

The book on the young guys? “They’re young,” Milloy said.

But Morrah and McCoy also have potential. Morrah has the speed to stretch the field; while McCoy has, well, that body (6-5, 259) as well as the run-after-the-catch ability that allowed him to average 20-plus yards for the Trojans last season.

“We’ve got a great group of tight ends and coach Bates gives us a tremendous number of opportunities to make plays,” Carlson said. “He moves us around. He motions us. He lets us line up outside.

“So it’s really a fun offense for us as tight ends to play in because we’re asked to do so many different things.”