It was just over a year ago that I was predicting big, big things for John Carlson. Not only did he have a stellar rookie season, but he filled a need on a team that desperately needed the classic "outlet" receiver who a QB could check down to when things went haywire. He flashed dependable hands and crisp routes and was lauded for a great work ethic.
Carlson, like the rest of the team, had a subpar 2009 season. All his numbers went down except for TDs. The hope was a new season and new staff would be able to take better advantage of his skills. The troubling truth is that we do appear to have a staff that knows how to put him position to succeed and QB that can get him the ball, but Carlson is not rising to the opportunity.
This past Sunday, we saw the first drive where Carlson was streaking down the field with nobody guarding him to the inside. Matt correctly read the situation and led Carlson to the inside. Instead of recognizing the coverage and turning in to find the ball, Carlson adjusted way too late and missed a chance for at least a huge gain, if not a long touchdown. In the first game of the year, a similar thing happened near the goal line when Carlson was running a route along the goal line and he was once again late to recognize the coverage and find the ball sailing into the end zone.
Some are chalking this up to chemistry between Matt and Carlson that will get better. Surely, there is something to that line of reasoning. However, I am concerned that it's a more deep-seeded problem than that. I think Carlson may be a little dim. Apologies for not finding a more sensitive way to put that, but let's just put that out there for what it is.
My coaches and managers always told me that making a mistake is fine. It often means you are challenging yourself to things beyond your comfort zone. The problem comes if you make the same mistake twice. Carlson is in his third year and shouldn't be making these mistakes at all, let alone in back-to-back weeks. I admit that I base part of my assessment on the "deer in headlights" look Carlson has whenever these shenanigans crop up. I have seen that look on teammates faces over the years. I have known players who have supreme ability and inferior instinct and/or intellect. It is a coaches nightmare because you can't stop fiddling with your game plan in an attempt to unlock the talent you see, only to one day realize you've been wasting your time all along.
The alternative explanation to all this is that Carlson is adjusting to his third offensive system in three years, and will settle in with time. I certainly hope that is true. My instincts are telling me otherwise at this point, and I'd advise Seahawks fans to brace themselves for a lower ceiling for John Carlson than many of initially projected.