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Seahawks Roster Analysis: Tight Ends

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Thomas' "Zach Miller, John Carlson and the Value of the Chip-and-Release" piece from last week was a great precursor to this article because it did an excellent job in pointing out the value in having a player like Carlson that, while on the field with Miller, can easily disguise a run/pass play. As Beekers put it, 'these type of tight ends make it near impossible to read run or pass based on alignment, which is often too easy on the current incarnation of the Seahawks offense.'

I couldn't have agreed with the article more and Beekers' argument for re-signing or possibly franchise tagging Carlson is sound, in my mind. The gap between Carlson's skillset and that of Anthony McCoy or Cameron Morrah is a lot wider than some probably assume and with the frequency Seattle likes to run with two tight end sets, spending a little on Carlson makes sense. Having Miller and Carlson on the field together presents interesting matchup issues for opposing defenses, who have to account for both Miller and Carlson as legitimate receiving options down the field and not just someone to keep an eye on. It's why Pete Carroll has raved about using the two together, why he's talked about the plan to do so prior to Carlson's labrum issue, and why he's still talking about re-signing him.

I think we all fall victim to the 'value' idea with this front office in hopes that Cameron Morrah and/or Anthony McCoy can just as easily assume the role that Carlson would be able to fill, but unfortunately both were fairly invisible and ineffective this season, dropping passes and missing blocking assignments and my confidence in their potential has waned quite a bit. My sense is that we've sort of forgotten the talent that Carlson does possess and was showcased in his first two seasons but hasn't been apparent in the last couple years. As Carlson's value is primarily as a receiving tight end, you have to look no further than what happened with Zach Miller this year as an indication of what happens when your offensive line needs help.

Now, operating under the assumption that the line, with an offseason of work together under the tutelage of Tom Cable, may be more ready to protect the quarterback without the dedicated services of a sixth person, one could guess that the tight end group will become more involved in the passing game. I highly doubt the Seahawks spent so much money on a guy like Zach Miller in the hopes he'd be a dedicated blocking tight end. I also think Carroll was being sincere when he addressed the questions of redundancy once Miller was signed, completely refuting the "trade Carlson" rumors.

"Anybody who thinks anything otherwise doesn't get it," Carroll said. "I think those guys will play together in tandem. They'll be on opposite sides. We'll be moving them around for matchups and all kinds of stuff. I think it's a great asset for us now. We've always liked to play with two tight ends in a number of different packages, and this just gives us tremendous flexibility at a really high level, so I'm really hoping this is going to be difficult for our opponents because of the matchups we'll be able to create."

Tremendous flexibility at a really high level. Those words stick out to me. You can't say that type of thing, yet anyway, about Morrah/McCoy. It's easy to forget Carlson had 106 catches for 1,201 yards and 12 touchdowns in his first two seasons when he was actually being used as a chip and release TE and not an in-line blocker or fullback. That talent hasn't disappeared.

I don't think Carroll was being dishonest when he said this after this last season:

"Our image of having Zach and John going at it - you saw how many extra tight ends we used. We thought it could really enhance John's game having Zach here, so we're hoping we can get that done and get him back with us."

The idea of Zach enhancing John's game speaks to the way they use the two, and Thomas' rough comparison to Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and the way the Patriots use TEs is apt. Alone, Gronk or Hernandez are good, but together they're nearly unstoppable. Using Hernandez in Gronk's role would be laughable, and Gronk wouldn't be nearly as dangerous in Hernandez's place, I would think. Well, maybe he would, but Gronk is a freak.

With Miller in the mix, Carlson no longer needs to be used in the unnatural position they had him in 2010. People say "Carlson sucks at blocking" but I think that's an exaggeration. Yes, he kind of does suck as a fullback or as a 6th linemen, but that doesn't mean he can't still trap block and chip just fine. It wasn't a huge issue his first two seasons. Regardless, he's a significant upgrade as a receiver over the other options available and at 6'5 is a dangerous red-zone threat, especially with Sidney Rice on the field.

It's unclear who really backs up Zach Miller in the first place if Carlson isn't re-signed or retained - by the end of the season, Anthony McCoy was yielding snaps to Cameron Morrah but neither really stood out or impressed me much. McCoy did a fine job in his blocking assignments and I think he's solid in that area, but famously developed rocks for hands. Morrah, on the other hand, was often used in '22' formations and motioned out to the wing as a wide receiver so his blocking skills weren't really tested much. He had six catches in nine games.

We could talk about potential all day long about these two - and I'm as guilty as anyone in daydreaming of two Vernon Davises backing up Zach Miller but the fact is neither of them have shown us much to get that excited about. There is talk about John Nalbone - particularly from Pete Carroll in his season-ending presser when he mentioned the practice squad TE by name, but again, nothing to go on but hope.

So, to me, tight end is an important position to watch this offseason and I'm hoping the Seahawks can get a deal done with Carlson. Barring that - we go back to the potential of Anthony McCoy and Cameron Morrah. Both have great athleticism and interesting skillsets for sure and this article isn't mean to bash either of them, but if we're being realistic, expecting a ton from either is tough for me. Can McCoy get past his dropsies? Can Morrah be used in that John Carlson role as more of a receiver than in-line blocker? Does he have the hands? These questions I just don't have an answer for.