Charlotte is here now, and by “here” I obviously mean FBS, and I feel confident they will be entertaining us even if they aren’t winning many games in the process. The 49ers have a solid offense, specifically the running game, and the defense was pretty awful against FCS competition. They may improve in 2015, but so will their competition.
Kalif Phillips and Austin Duke return to provide a balanced attack for this offense. Phillips rushed for over 1,400 yards last year and 20 touchdowns. Duke topped 1,300 yards receiving (nearly half of the teams total yards), and had over 1,000 more yards receiving than any other player on the team. Phillips and Duke are clearly talented and productive players, but FBS defenses will likely be wise to that and try to force other players to beat them. The 49ers need more players to step up, especially in the passing game, if they want to be as productive as they were last year.
The offensive line was not great last year, but at least they have continuity. Four starters return, and the fill-in at RG will likely either by Mason Sludge or Jarred Barr. Sludge has started ten games in his career and Barr has six. Experience is valuable, and if nothing else, Charlotte has experience up front.
Matt Johnson, not the same as Bowling Green’s quarterback, returns after leading the team in passing last year. Johnson wasn’t great last year, but he wasn’t completely awful. He did manage to throw more touchdowns than interceptions, but that 52% completion percentage has to improve. If he can’t or, heaven forbid, he has an injury issue, then it helps to know that he has an experienced backup. Lee McNeill threw for nearly 1,000 yards last year himself, and completed 58.5% of his passes, which isn’t great but obviously better than Johnson’s.
Let me repeat: experience is valuable. For a defense that returns nine starters to a below average unit, that needs to be a mantra. Continuity is always better than the alternative, but it would take massive, across-the-board strides for this defense to hold up against FBS competition this season.
If there’s a piece of this defense that will be up to snuff in the FBS, it’s the defensive line. Larry Ogunjobi and Mark Pettit make up a solid tandem up front. They combined for 18.5 tackles for loss and 8 sacks last season. They need to be stalwart too, because everything behind them is pretty shaky.
Both inside linebackers, Dustin Crouser and Karrington King, return for a linebacking corps that was rough last year, but had its moments. Crouser managed two interceptions and King had three sacks. Daquan Lucas also returns at outside linebacker after notching eight tackles for loss, a pick, and a forced fumble last year. If this group can have a few more “moments” in 2015, then maybe they will be at least passable.
Based on the previous narrative of this article, anyone want to wager a guess at how to sum up the secondary? Any takers? Bueller?
Alright, I’m sure you all probably got it. This group returns three starters, including both corners, but wasn’t great last year. Tank Norman and Greg Cunningham, Jr. combined for four picks and twelve pass breakups, which isn’t horrible. It also helps that the most productive member of the secondary, S Branden Dozier, is also back. Dozier broke up a team high 11 passes last year.
Moving up is significantly harder than Georgia Southern and Appalachian State made it look last year. This season will likely be a rough one for the 49ers, but growing pains are not bad, even if they aren’t particularly fun. Charlotte can likely beat Presbyterian at home, but expecting much more than that would be generously optimistic. They do have home dates against Southern Miss, UTSA and Florida Atlantic, plus a non-conference game at Georgia State that could provide opportunities for an upset win.
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