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Originally published September 5, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 5, 2008 at 5:26 PM

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Seahawks' rookie tight end put to the test early

Seattle Seahawks football coach Mike Holmgren is counting on his rookie tight end, John Carlson, to be a quick study. The Notre Dame product will start Sunday at the Buffalo Bills.

Seattle Times staff reporter

RENTON — John Carlson let his silence speak for him.

That was true in training camp when coach Mike Holmgren critiqued the practice performance of his rookie tight end.

"I just kept my mouth shut and listened to whatever he had to say," Carlson said.

It was just as true this week when Carlson was asked just what the coach had said to him.

"I'm not going to share that with you right now," Carlson said.

For more than a month now the Seahawks tight end has kept his ears open, not his mouth, but come Sunday, he will have the chance to announce his arrival when he starts at tight end in Buffalo.

Carlson didn't have the luxury of being some wide-eyed rookie. He was the player Seattle picked to be its starting tight end, and Holmgren warned him the learning curve was going to be steep.

"We're going to throw him into the frying pan, I believe is what I said," Holmgren said.

Sure enough, Holmgren spent a good chunk of training camp standing on the accelerator to get Carlson up to speed.

Some of it was the player. Holmgren was sold on Carlson heading into the draft, and believed he was the most NFL-ready tight end available, which is why the Seahawks traded away their third-round pick for the privilege of picking him early in the second round.

Some of it was the position, too. Tight ends tend to thrive in Holmgren's offense, or at least they did before he came to Seattle. Guys like Brent Jones and Mark Chmura became Pro Bowlers, but Holmgren's 10-year tenure with the Seahawks has amounted to a decadelong search for a consistent producer at that position.

Can Carlson be that guy?

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"He's one of those guys that's going to be a good player in the league for a long time," Holmgren said. "And he should be. And that's the way he has been going."

Carlson caught five passes in Seattle's exhibition games, none for more than 13 yards, but the coaches weren't grooming Carlson to shine in August, but rather September.

He's a smart player, but the Seahawks already knew that. Coming out of Notre Dame, he scored 40 on the Wonderlic test administered at the NFL combine, which was reportedly the highest of all draft candidates.

The Seahawks were geared to getting Carlson ready from the moment he reported to training camp. That first week, Holmgren pulled him aside and told him to ditch the head fakes, stop with the shoulder pumps and just run his routes. The instruction was peppered with a little bit of anger and a whole lot of urgency, but Carlson understood that part of the game, too, because his father was a coach.

"I've learned that coach can put pressure on you, but if he's putting pressure on you it means he has faith in you," Carlson said. "It means he believes in your abilities and your potential."

Seattle needs that potential to become reality, pronto.

Wide receiver Bobby Engram is out for at least the next couple of weeks, and Deion Branch has yet to participate in a full practice. Nate Burleson caught 50 passes last season and is starting at split end. The remaining three wide receivers and three tight ends on the roster caught a combined 24 passes a year ago.

The only thing as big as the uncertainty in Seattle's passing game will be the opportunities for players like Carlson. Now, it's just a matter of catching on.

"Now, everything ratchets up a little bit," Holmgren said. "We've got to see how the young guys — not just John, but ... some of our young receivers — just see how they handle it when we get going here, when the lights get turned on."

Just don't expect any big monologues from Carlson, even under the spotlight. He's made his biggest impression by keeping his mouth closed, his ears open.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com

TE or not TE
Mike Holmgren's offense was known for production from the tight end. At least it was until recently. The past two seasons have been two of the least productive from that position in his Seattle tenure:
Year Rec. Yds
2007 41 355
2006 36 332
2005 58 643
2004 62 699
2003 52 564
2002 70 776
2001 29 286
2000 56 525
1999 40 404

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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