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Originally published December 9, 2009 at 9:19 PM | Page modified December 9, 2009 at 10:02 PM

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Is Seahawks tight end John Carlson in a sophomore slump?

Seahawks tight end John Carlson hasn't had a lot of catches lately, and his coaches have figured out why.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Sunday

Seahawks @ Houston, 10 a.m., Ch. 13

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RENTON — Four catches in the past four games don't exactly scream the words "breaking out."

Nevertheless, Seahawks coach Jim Mora believes second-year tight end John Carlson is on the verge of doing just that. There's a catch, however — Mora, who admitted that recent questions from reporters about Carlson's production prompted him to look into the situation, offered an explanation Wednesday as to why Carlson isn't making many catches of late.

"John quite frankly needs to just improve his second-level releases, and that's after he gets past the line of scrimmage, clearing the linebackers. He gets bumped around a little bit," Mora said. "He's kind of a linear-built guy and people have bumped him around a little bit. And so John, as he develops, will learn how to play with his pads a little lower as he gets to the second level, and that will create some separation for him."

Time out for clarification on just what a "second-level release" is.

"More than last year, teams have been very sensitive to try to reroute John on releases, and so he's been getting banged around a lot more," offensive coordinator Greg Knapp explained, "and that's one of the things that we're working on a lot more with John. What we call second-level releases. Those linebackers or safeties are about 5 yards off the ball, where is it illegal contact, or do we have to keep our pad level down as a receiver or tight end and avoid that? Because sometimes that will throw the timing off as far as [a quarterback's] progression."

It's not like the Seahawks aren't trying to get Carlson the ball, and it's not like Carlson is inexperienced or not accomplished. The former second-round pick set club records for catches and receiving yards for a tight end last season, 55 for 627. He has 37 receptions for 426 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Knapp said two of the first four pass plays the Seahawks scripted against the 49ers last week were intended to be for Carlson as the No. 1 option, and both times, there was a pass-protection breakdown. The second time, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was sacked and fumbled the ball.

"We're trying to get him involved more," Knapp said, "but I don't want to get to a point where we're forcing the issue. ... We can only do so much by game plan, but if the quarterback doesn't have it, I don't want to force a throw and get a turnover."

It's also worth noting that Carlson's numbers are actually quite similar to what they were last season after 12 games. In 2008, he had 38 grabs for 456 yards and three touchdowns. So overall, Carlson's production isn't down.

After leading the Seahawks in receiving last season, more was expected of Carlson in 2009.

He could yet improve on his numbers with four games to go, but he was hindered in his production when the Seahawks needed Carlson to stay near the line of scrimmage for additional pass protection. Injuries beset their offensive line earlier this season.

The past two or three games, Knapp said, Carlson has been off the line running routes more often.

"If I don't have any more catches the rest of the year and we win, I'll be happy with that," Carlson said.

Note

• Hasselbeck did not practice Wednesday because of shoulder soreness, but Mora said Hasselbeck will practice today.

José Miguel Romero: 206-464-2409 or jromero@seattletimes.com

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