The Charlotte 49ers’ preparation for the second season under Will Healy started back in December following the program’s first bowl appearance, but for the first time since March, it’s time to pad up and see what this team is made of.
With COVID-19 cutting spring practice early, the 49ers turned to Zoom meetings with both individual and team groupings. Various guest speakers spoke to the team highlighted by the likes of Luke Keuchly, Greg Olsen, and Michael Vick.
The mental preparation for a chess match on the gridiron is just as important as the physical, and the work this team has put in through the summer paid dividends on Friday, the first day of pre-season camp.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been this far along before starting a season,” senior defensive end Tyriq Harris said after the first official day of camp.
The leaders of this team, Chris Reynolds and Harris, called a players-only meeting last week to open the floor for concerns from the team and provide support for the uncertainty that looms. That type of communication and accountability has the means to keep college football afloat for the 2020 season, and many players have taken to social media in hopes of a full season.
It has been made clear that the players and coaches want to be with their team and at their facilities, and some even feel safer there than back in their hometowns. But the virus still looms. With that said, let’s talk football.
“You better bring your own juice, there’s no question about it,” second-year head coach Will Healy said, and these 49ers have brought the energy to practice every single day.
If you played high school football and haven’t been to one of Charlotte’s practices, I assure you that it will make you wish you had a young coaching staff with as much enthusiasm as this one.
There have been questions surrounding the offensive line with the departure of three starters, including a First Team C-USA standout and current New York Jet, Cameron Clark, as well as replacing former offensive coordinator and offensive line coach, Alex Atkins. Charlotte brought in Lee Grimes who served as an offensive analyst for his alma mater, Texas A&M, for the past two seasons. Grimes took over the offensive line coach duties and played a major role in landing the program and conference’s highest-rated recruit for the 2020 cycle, four-star offensive lineman Ty’Kiest Crawford. The addition of the 6-5, 335lb mammoth of a human jolted the 49ers’ recruiting class from seventh to second in C-USA.
If the offensive line can get enough reps to establish chemistry and can stay relatively healthy, this is going to be a dangerous offense. With Chris Reynolds, a Manning and Maxwell Award candidate, leading the attack in his junior season, this unit has a chance to shatter its 29.8 points per game mark from 2019.
The receiving corps returns its top-4 producers from 2019, including Biletnikoff Award candidate, Victor Tucker. Tucker caught 52 passes for 909 yards and 7 touchdowns in his sophomore season and has the potential to be the first 49er to eclipse 1,000 yards since Austin Duke recorded 1,373 in 2014.
The top five options at receiver - Victor Tucker, Cameron Dollar, Tyler Ringwood, Micaleous Elder, and Rico Arnold (who missed the 2019 season with injury) have all recorded a game of 100 yards or more in their career with the 49ers. When new Offensive Coordinator Mark Carney decides to go 5-wide, it will be deadly.
With the addition of two-time 1,000-yard rusher and former All-Mac running back Tre Harbison, this team has both the speed and toughness to make a push for the first C-USA championship in program history. Harbison and Aaron McAllister will see the majority of the carries when September rolls around.
Freshman running back Elijah Turner is slated to miss the majority of the season following successful ankle surgery. The Buford native could return for the final four weeks of the season to preserve his redshirt status, but that is to be determined.
I can see this group lighting up the scoreboard with regularity, and hopefully igniting some sort of crowd. The only weakness I see is the lack of a tight end with the ability to make plays in the passing game. Christian Roberson was the most productive at his position totaling only five catches for 64 yards and a touchdown on the season.
The 49ers tentative season-opener is currently slated for September 19th, where Charlotte will travel to Chapel Hill to take on Mack Brown and the North Carolina Tar Heels. There have been rumors flying about a potential matchup with Appalachian State, but nothing is in stone as of now.