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6 tight ends compete for playing time

Heather VanHoegarden | Friday, September 3, 2004

By Heather Van HoegardenSports Editor

They are deep, talented and athletic, but it has yet to be determined which ones will play. The Irish have a group of six tight ends, Billy Palmer, Jared Clark, Anthony Fasano, Jerome Collins, John Carlson and Marcus Freeman, and it is still unclear as to who will get the majority of the minutes. As of now, the fifth-year senior Palmer is listed as the starter, but offensive line/tight ends coach Mike Denbrock said nothing is set in stone.”All those guys are going to play a lot of football for us, so I wouldn’t necessarily put a lot of stock in who’s listed first or second on there,” he said of the depth chart. “The important thing for us is to make sure that we’re incorporating the best players that we have available to us in our offense, and those guys all fit into that.”Joining the experienced Palmer is fellow fifth-year senior and converted quarterback Clark. The 6-foot-4 Clark had 15 catches for 142 yards last season, an average of 9.5 yards per catch, while Palmer caught one ball for 13 yards. This duo provides the experience of the group, along with Collins, who is also a fifth-year senior, but is in his first year at tight end, after playing linebacker in 2003.”Experience is a pretty powerful thing as far as knowing what to do, how to do it, what it’s gonna be like when the lights come on and it’s time to play for real,” Denbrock said. “So those guys are invaluable to the younger guys. But I think everybody’s kinda picked up their game. It’s funny how competition will help you do that.”The younger guys Denbrock referred to are Carlson, Fasano and Freeman. Carlson is a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman who also played on the Irish basketball team last season. Carlson also played in the U.S. Army All-American game in high school.Fasano is the most experienced of the younger guys. Last year, he had 18 catches for 169 yards, good for fourth on the team. The redshirt sophomore sat out of spring drills with an injury after playing in 11 games with three starts in 2003. He also scored two touchdowns last year. Freeman, a 6-foot-2 redshirt junior, saw action in 11 games last season. Quarterback Brady Quinn said he feels fine throwing to any of the tight ends.”I’m pretty comfortable with all the guys,” Quinn said. “They’re a good group of guys and they’re going to definitely help us have a huge impact on our offensive scheme this year. Some guys have stepped up. Marcus Freeman has done a great job, really worked hard in the offseason and done a lot for us. I think Anthony Fasano has come back, been working hard this summer, and put in some good work.”Denbrock said his group hopes to be an important part of the West Coast offense.”If practice bears out the same way in a game as it has while we’ve been working on the things, they’re gonna be a major part of our offense, both catching the ball and blocking for us,” he said. “I hope that’s the case, and I know they feel the same way.”The Irish coach said the competition for playing time will depend on a number of things.”There’s a good deal of talent here,” Denbrock said. “I think that each one in their own right is a little bit different, both physically, mentally and talent-wise, and that’s why it’s most important that you get guys that can be a total tight end and be consistent. I think that’s really what we’re really striving for. So I think whichever group in that top level that does that is probably going to be the three that play.”Offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said there is not enough playing time for all six tight ends.”It is definitely a deep group – it’s about six deep, and there’s not a lot of playing time for six,” he said. “You’ve gotta weed it out a little bit, and probably the one thing you do by weeding it out, is the guys that are consistent and making plays are probably going to play. I think that’s the one thing we’ve really tried to do through camp is really find out which one of those six, or which group of those six is probably the most consistent and is going to get the most playing time.”When asked if he had sorted through the group this week, Diedrick said to wait and see.”On Saturday night, you will find out,” he said.