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Charlotte 49ers offense: A breakdown through the eyes of a lineman

Quarterback

Redshirt-freshman Matt Johnson is the starter and will direct the 49ers’ spread, no-huddle offense, a system he ran at Maiden High. Although he doesn’t have a lot of arm strength, Johnson (6-foot-3, 230 pounds) will bring athleticism and toughness to the 49ers’ hurry-up offense. Patrick O’Brien, a transfer from UNC Pembroke, and Porter Ridge High’s Lee McNeill are the backups.

The Observer asked junior offensive lineman Daniel Blitch to introduce his offensive teammates. Here’s Blitch’s take on players both on and off the field:

Matt Johnson, redshirt freshman quarterback

“Matt is a good, composed guy, who makes sure everybody knows what they’re doing and leads the guys in what they’re supposed to do. He’s a good, Christian guy who does mission trips with (Fellowship of Christian Athletes).”

Running back

Alan Barnwell, a tough, shifty runner, is the clear-cut starter. He’ll be backed up by true freshman Kalif Phillips (A.L. Brown High), who had an impressive preseason camp.

Alan Barnwell, redshirt freshman running back

“He’s the kind of guy, if you met him, you wouldn’t think he’s as serious as he is on the field. He’s the kind of guy who does his goofing off, off the field. He’s been around the program now that he can tell the freshmen what they need to do and what not to do.”

Receiver

This position took a hit when redshirt freshman Jamel Ross was lost for the season with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman Austin Duke and Air Force transfer Mikel Hunter provide big-play capabilities. Junior-college transfer Dmarjai Devine and redshirt freshman E.J. Rhinehart (Northwest Cabarrus) provide more size and had strong preseason camps.

Austin Duke, redshirt freshman receiver

“He’s not shy at all, especially around us. He’s always got something to say, which isn’t a bad thing. But sometimes at 6:30 in the morning at breakfast, he might not have something to say. When he doesn’t have a good rep on the field, it really bothers him. He needs to keep his cool sometime, but I can’t knock him for wanting to be the best he can be.”

Mikel Hunter, junior receiver

“He’s an older guy, like I am. He doesn’t talk a lot about what to do or not, but when people are around him, they know how to do the right things just by watching him.”

H-back

The 49ers will use this hybrid of a tight end and slot receiver a lot. Redshirt freshman Justin Bolus had an excellent preseason camp, and has recovered from lower-intestinal surgery in the offseason that was nearly fatal. C.J. Crawford transferred from Marshall, where he was effective in a similar style of offense the 49ers will employ.

Justin Bolus, redshirt freshman H-back

“If you’re ever out in the tailgating section, you can hear him a mile away. He talks louder than anybody I’ve ever been around. He puts in a lot of work. He’s not our biggest guy, but he will run up in a hole and hit somebody.”

C.J. Crawford, senior H-back

“Another old guy. He brings that old-guy humor to the team. We’ll take our hour-long break in the locker room between meals and meetings, and he’ll tell stories of his life. He’s the kind of guy who demands respect, not verbally, but the way he carries himself.”

Offensive line

Perhaps the deepest and most solid spot on the team. The 49ers recruited big and athletic linemen who can get out in space and block in the spread offense. The most experienced is Blitch, at one of the guard spots, and the most talented is probably left tackle Jamal Covington, a redshirt freshman. Thomas La Bianca (Porter Ridge) and Mason Sledge (Monroe) have been competing for the starting center spot, although whomever doesn’t get the job will start at guard. The right tackle spot has become a tossup between sophomore Danny Book (who has missed time with a head injury) and redshirt freshman Casey Perry (who has switched from the defensive line).

Jamal Covington, redshirt freshman tackle

Jamal is starting to get the hang of being a college football player. He’s really coachable, which coach (Phil) Ratliff will tell you. Me and him have some pretty heated battles on Call of Duty and FIFA (video games).”

Danny Book, sophomore tackle

“He’s not very verbal, but he’s not antisocial by any means. He comes in does his job and leaves. He’s my roommate, so we hang out at the house, watch SportsCenter or whatnot.”

Thomas La Bianca, redshirt freshman guard/center

“He’s our (mixed martial arts) specialist. He always loves to wrestle people. He was a wrestler in high school and did very well. He loves to get people on the ground and pound them.”

Mason Sledge, redshirt freshman guard/center

“He gets the most trash talked as anybody on the O-line. He came from a big basketball area (Monroe), so he’s always wanting to play basketball and he thinks he can still play as well as he did in high school. It keeps his feet quick, I think.”

Casey Perry, redshirt freshman tackle

“He’s switched from the defensive line, so he’s getting there. It’s a whole new mindset for him. But he’s getting that mentality.”

Daniel Blitch, junior guard

“Wow, it’s a little different talking about yourself. I’m a guy that everybody looks up to, coming from a bigger program and being older. I’ve told them if anybody ever needs anything on or off the field, I’m there for them. I think that’s the best way I can make my mark and build the team. I love computers and building them if I can. My motto is, ‘It’s built, not bought.’ If I can build it and do it better than what I can buy, I’d rather do it that way.”

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