The 2019 spring campaign has been a huge evaluation period for Willy Healy and his new staff. We have gotten a taste of what the new-look 49ers bring to the table through 14 practices and three scrimmages in the past month.
What Did We Learn?
- It is indeed possible to have fun at 5:30 in the morning.
- Will Healy’s family culture has become a huge staple in the 49ers program.
- Marcus West has stepped in and created great optimism in replacing Glenn Spencer. The players have bought in and their play on the defensive side of the ball speaks for itself.
- The quarterback battle is completely up for grabs. Evan Shirreffs and Chris Reynolds have been solid, and the USF transfer Brett Kean will join the program over the summer. There’s going to be a three-headed battle for the starting spot.
- The players are excited, and whether they’re throwing down a Sports Center Top 10 nominee dunk in the “dunk can” after a turnover, or chanting “WAR” (We are relentless) on third downs, this team is improving rapidly.
Players to Watch:
Tyriq Harris: Harris has dominated the edge throughout spring practice, and you can expect the same in the Spring game. He enters this season with a team-high 24 straight starts, finishing with a career-high in tackles, tackles for loss, and sacks in the 2018 season. A breakout senior season is in line, and I expect his NFL draft stock to continue to rise.
Nafees Lyon: Coming off a seven-start season with 42 tackles and multiple pass deflections, along with five interceptions in the back half of the 2018 season, expect Lyon to be a force in the 49ers’ secondary. Lyon was a team captain last season, and his energy and excitement in practice show the leadership qualities he brings to the team.
Aaron McAllister: McAllister has been a strong number two punch in the backfield the past two seasons and has been the number one back through spring ball with Benny LeMay being out due to precaution. A change-of-pace back is crucial in a spread option offense, and McAllister is putting the work in to be that guy.
“The intensity is set on high; the coaches want you to play until the whistle, sometimes play through the whistle,” McAllister said after practice. “You have to keep driving your legs, keep running.”
Cameron Dollar: Cameron played in 11 games as a redshirt freshman and snagged his first collegiate touchdown against UMass in 2018. With crisp routes and good size at 6-2, 180lbs, expect Dollar to see a solid number of targets in the 2019 campaign.
Joe Thompson: Thompson has taken full advantage of the next-man-up mentality, as he’s gotten first-team reps throughout the spring. He has made the journey from scout-team MVP in 2016, to making the switch from QB to WR in 2017 and being a special teams starter in every game of 2018. Thompson has made an increasing impact every season, expect a jump in offensive snaps in his junior year, as he can contribute at the receiver position, or be utilized as a gadget player with his throwing background.
Chris Reynolds: Reynolds started 2018 as QB1 and played well through six games, but his season was cut short after suffering an ankle injury in week six against WKU. He’s displayed full health throughout the spring campaign, making accurate throws, and escaping the pocket when necessary. His longest rush of his career was for 14 yards against Old Dominion last season, you can expect that to change this year with increased ability to handle the ball in a spread option offense.
“Our new system is definitely set up for the quarterback to make decisions on the fly, whether that be to use my legs and get out of the pocket or stand in and make the throw.” Reynolds said after practice. “It’s been a great experience through these first few weeks.”
- Will Healy’s offense is running exclusively from the shotgun, with a plethora of zone reads and play action.
- The defensive scheme is a 4-2-5, which gives prime opportunity to get after the quarterback with pressure off the edges. Expect Tyriq Harris and Alex Highsmith to thrive in this system.
- Jonathon Cruz still has ice in his veins. I can count on one hand how many misses he had through the spring.
- The offense is missing arguably the best RB in C-USA, Benny LeMay, along with their top two receivers in Victor Tucker and Rico Arnold. Lots of experience and reps for younger guys hoping to bring another dimension to the offense.
- Jacob Hunt’s recent play has tightened up the battle for the starting tight end position. His ability to block as well as make plays in the passing game is creating a formidable option in the offense.
- Charlotte picked up a grad transfer from Mississippi State in Christian Robertson, but the 6-6, 235lb tight end won’t arrive until camp during the Summer.
- The offensive line is only returning two starters. Alex Atkins’ group must step up for the offense to reach their potential.
- Defensive back Quinton Jordan has left the program and entered the NCAA transfer portal. Jordan recorded 52 tackles and five pass deflections in 2017 but red-shirted the 2018 season. A huge loss for the defensive unit.
- Quarterback Evan Shirreffs will not participate in the spring game due to a concussion. Redshirt freshman Brady Pope will get the start for the second team.
- The injury bug has bitten the 49ers, and while you won’t see some of the most talented players on Saturday, a lot of younger guys will get plenty of reps. While it is always ideal to have your best players on the field, experience and growth are crucial for the team as a whole.
We are just over four months from the kickoff of the 2019 season. There’s a lot of hype around this team right now, and spring ball is just step one in turning the hype into reality. Charlotte finished the 2018 season with a 5-7 record, but this team has the talent and ability to reach a bowl game for the first time in program history.
“It’s about what you put on film, and there should never be a day where we lack energy. That’s something we can control. We have to bring it every single day to get where we want to go.” First-year head coach Will Healy to his team following practice. “You will play mind games with your opponent if you are having more fun than they are.”
These guys are having fun, competing every day, and setting a gold standard for the Charlotte 49ers.