how John Carlson, despite playing only three seasons with the club, has become the tight end on the Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team.
How is it that someone who has played three seasons with the Seahawks ends up on the 35th Anniversary team?
Blue and Green Dream Team
The Seahawks’ 35th Anniversary team, as selected by the readers of Seahawks.com:
WR Steve Largent
LT Walter Jones
LG Steve Hutchinson
C Robbie Tobeck
RG Bryan Millard
RT Howard Ballard
TE John Carlson
WR Bobby Engram
WR Brian Blades
QB Matt Hasselbeck
RB Shaun Alexander
FB Mack Strong
DE Jacob Green
DT Joe Nash
DT Cortez Kennedy
DE Michael Sinclair
OLB Chad Brown
MLB Lofa Tatupu
ILB Fredd Young
OLB Rufus Porter
CB Marcus Trufant
CB Dave Brown
NB Shawn Springs
SS Kenny Easley
FS Eugene Robinson
K Norm Johnson
P Rick Tuten
KOR Steve Broussard
PR Nate Burleson
That was John Carlson’s initial reaction upon learning that he had been voted to the unit that also includes franchise foundations Steve Largent, Walter Jones, Joe Nash, Mack Strong and Jacob Green – who comprise the Top 5 for games played in club history.
“It’s a tremendous honor, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily an accurate honor,” Carlson said. “In 35 years, there obviously have been a number of great tight ends on this team.”
He’s right; there were other quality tight ends. From Mike Tice, who finished just 18 votes behind Carlson in the closest race when readers of Seahawks.com cast their ballots and was the pick at the position on the Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s 25th Anniversary team in 2000; to the pre-Tice duo of Ron Howard and Charle Young; to the post-Tice trio of Christian Fauria, Itula Mili and Jerramy Stevens.
None, however, were as productive as Carlson. He already has posted the club single-season records for a tight end in receptions (55 in 2008), receiving yards (627 in ’08) and touchdown catches (seven in 2009). Even more telling, his three-season totals in each category (137 for 1,519 and 13) are just off the career marks that belong to Fauria (166 catches in 10 seasons), Mili (1,743 yards in seven seasons) and Stevens (15 TDs in five seasons).
Which brings us back to the original how-does-that-happen query?
“It’s all about circumstance and timing,” Carlson said.
And Carlson definitely was the right tight end at the right time when the Seahawks selected him in the second round of the 2008 NFL draft.
As former offensive coordinator Gil Haskell put it at the time, “This kid is different now. He’s the guy we’ve been looking for.”
While Carlson dreamed of playing in the NFL while growing up in Litchfield, Minn., and could envision it happening while at Notre Dame, he did not foresee the immediate success he has had – including becoming the first rookie to lead the team in receptions and receiving yards since Largent in 1976.
“When you’re growing up, you just kind of look to the next step,” Carlson said. “When you’re in high school, you’re looking to play in college. Once you get to college, you want to get on the field first and then make a difference for your team. Then, try to make it in the NFL.
“As far as production at this level, I really didn’t know what to expect. I think a lot of it had to do with the opportunities that you’re given.”
Opportunities that weren’t always there for the tight ends who preceded Carlson.
Pete Metzelaars, one of those tight ends, remembers what it was like to play the position during the tenure of coach Chuck Knox, whose offense was dubbed “Ground Chuck” for a reason. After signing with the Buffalo Bills in 1985, Metzelaars was asked about playing the position in Knox’s run-first-second-and-maybe-even-third scheme.
“The tight end can go an entire season in Seattle,” Metzelaars said, “and the only thing he’ll catch is a cold.”
The other end of the tight-end spectrum involves Mike Holmgren, who arrived in 1999 with his tight end-friendly hybrid of the West Coast offense.
“Mike brought much more significance to the tight end position,” said Brent Jones, who played tight end for the 49ers when Holmgren was the offensive coordinator on Bill Walsh’s staff in San Francisco. “Part of Bill’s offense was to use the tight end. But Mike brought in some ideas that he had from BYU, and it sparked an evolution in the position.”
Jones will get no argument from Carlson, who played his rookie season for Holmgren in a season when injuries decimated the wide receiver group.
“Statistically, I had my best year when he was here,” Carlson said. “Coach Holmgren really loved using tight ends in the passing game. That’s why a lot of tight ends like playing in that offense.”
In doing it his first season, Carlson became the first rookie tight end to start for Holmgren in his 16 seasons as a head coach in the league.
Carlson’s immediate impact wasn’t lost on Holmgren, who ended up having the tight end he’d been seeking during his entire tenure with the Seahawks for only one season.
“I wish I had him 10 years ago,” Holmgren said in one of his final news conferences before “retiring” after the 2008 season.
Because of Holmgren’s departure, and the one-year stay of successor Jim Mora and his staff, Carlson has played for three head coaches, three offensive coordinators and three position coaches in his first three seasons. This year, it will be four-for-four in coordinators with Darrell Bevell replacing Jeremy Bates.
While change can be good, Carlson is hoping the latest change is one for the better after he posted career lows in receptions (31), receiving yards (318) and touchdown catches (one) in 2010.
“I have no idea what this new offense will be like,” he said. “But as a football player, it seems like every year you can improve on everything.”
Specifically, Carlson wants to continue to develop his blocking in the run game, even though he admits, “I think I’m a better run blocker now than I was three years ago.” He’d also like to refine his route running and ability to read coverages.
“Everyone at this level is big and strong, so technique becomes so important,” Carlson said. “So I want to continue to work on my technique and to get stronger in the weight room.”
No one doubts that will indeed be the case.
“John is Captain America, I don’t know how else to really sum him up,” said Lofa Tatupu, one of the linebackers on the 35th Anniversary team. “He is the All-American boy. Every organization dreams of having a guy like him – well-spoken, great guy. I don’t know that there’s a guy more liked in the locker room than John.
“Not to mention that he performs well every time he takes the field. He’s an amazing talent, and we’re lucky to have him.”
Carlson is, as Haskell pointed out, different. A McDonald’s preseason All-American basketball player in high school who also played the sport for one season at Notre Dame, he knows how to use his body to shield defenders from the ball. He also possesses soft hands and prototypical size (6-5, 251). And, as with all the players on the 35th Anniversary team, Carlson has that special element to his game.
“John is a receiver trapped in a tight end’s body,” said Nate Burleson, the punt returner on the reader-selected team who also plays wide receiver. “He runs great routes with great hands. He’s a tremendous talent.”