Ten questions facing the Charlotte 49ers as they open their first preseason football camp at 7 a.m. Thursday:
Q. What kind of competition will there be at quarterback?
The starting job is redshirt freshman Matt Johnsons to lose and dont count on that happening. He ran with the first team for most of last seasons practices, runs the spread offense well and had an excellent spring game (completing 13 of 14 passes for 174 yards and a touchdown). He will be backed up by Lee McNeill and strong-armed Patrick OBrien, a transfer from UNC Pembroke.
Q. Wheres the teams strength going to be?
Probably on the offensive line, where coach Brad Lambert feels good about tackles Jamal Covington (6-4, 295) and Danny Book (6-6, 280) and guard Daniel Blitch (6-6-, 315), a transfer from Wake Forest. Thomas LaBianca (6-3, 300) and Mason Sledge (6-4, 290) are competing for the remaining center and guard spots.
Q. Is there a depth problem at running back?
Probably. Redshirt freshman Alan Barnwell is the starter, but there were few options behind him coming out of fall and spring practices. Chris Duffy (Porter Ridge High) and Kalif Phillips (Kannapolis Brown) were recruited to fix that, but Duffy will instead go to junior college this season.
Q. Whos the playmaker?
Austin Duke, an Independence High product, has that potential. He caught four passes for 81 yards in the spring game and will be in the mix as a kick and punt returner. Theres also Air Force-transfer Mikel Hunter and redshirt freshman Will Thomas, who are both capable of breaking off big plays.
Q. How about on defense?
Theres talent, especially with nose guard Larry Ogunjobi and Georgia State transfer Mark Hogan (the Panthers all-time leading tackler) at inside linebacker. But the 49ers might be in especially good shape at safety, where Wake Forest transfer Desmond Cooper and Martay Mattox (who began his career at South Carolina) could start alongside each other.
Q. Who might be a surprise?
Outside linebacker Nico Alcalde was a walk-on last year, but played so well in the fall and spring that hes earned a scholarship. He might be in the starting lineup against Campbell.
Q. Whats keeping Lambert awake at night?
He doesnt have a long snapper, which is not an insignificant problem. It could be LaBianca or Slade, but hed prefer to find somebody else. He hopes that player emerges in August.
Q. How many freshmen might be redshirted?
Lambert says about half the teams 17 true freshmen will be redshirted. He says he hopes to have about 57 scholarship players on the active roster this season, increasing that number to 75 in 2014 and to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision limit of 85 in 2015 when Charlotte joins Conference USA for football.
Q. Are practices open to the public?
Some of them are. Most of Charlottes week-day practices which will begin at 7 a.m. until summer school is out will be open. The 49ers Saturday practices will be closed.
Q. How easy will it be to go to games?
Not very easy, if you havent bought a permanent seat license or season ticket by now. Fewer than 100 of 5,000 available PSLs remain and the approximately 2,500 remaining season tickets are nearly sold out. The rest of the 15,314-seat stadium (about 7,000 seats) goes to student seating. So few, if any, walk-up tickets will be available.
Aug. 31, Campbell (noon).
Sept. 7, Chowan (noon); 14, N.C. Central (noon); 21, at James Madison (6 p.m.); 28, at Presbyterian (2 p.m.).
Oct. 5, Gardner-Webb (noon); 12, UNC Pembroke (noon); 26, at Charleston Southern (1:30 p.m.).
Nov. 2, at Coastal Carolina (3 p.m.); 9, Wesley, Del. (noon); 23, Pl Morehead State (1 p.m.).
Note: All home games on WCCB, Ch. 18.
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