With an 11-game schedule, its difficult to do an exact mid-season report card. So with the Charlotte 49ers (4-2) six games into their inaugural season, heres a position-by-position breakdown of the 49ers as they face UNC Pembroke (4-0) at noon Saturday at Richardson Stadium:
Whats worked: Averaging 36.1 points and 468.8 yards per game, the 49ers are developing a top-notch quarterback in Matt Johnson, who has at his disposal a rugged pair of running backs and three play-making receivers.
Lowlights: Turnovers (11 in losses against N.C. Central and James Madison). Propensity by young receivers Austin Duke and Trent Bostick to drop passes. Both of these problems have eased in recent weeks.
Quarterback: Despite a five-interception game against N.C. Central, redshirt freshman Johnson has emerged as one of the top young quarterbacks in FCS. His 16 touchdown passes rank third nationally, but his toughness and ability to run (52 carries for 191 yards) give him a dual-threat effectiveness. Grade: B-plus
Running back: The duo of redshirt freshman Alan Barnwell and true freshman Kalif Phillips combines for 130 yards per game. Barnwell (382 yards, 4.8-yard average, three TDs) is the starter, with the physical Phillips (355, 5.1, four) bringing the hammer when the defense has tired. Not unlike the Panthers DeAngelo Williams-Jonathan Stewart combo when its clicking. Grade: B
Receivers: All three 49ers receivers can stretch a defense redshirt freshman Austin Duke (32 catches, 376 yards, six TDs), true freshman Trent Bostick (30, 394, four) and senior Mikel Hunter (23, 325, one). Duke and Bostick have both dropped passes, though, an area that needs work. Grade: B-minus
H back: This tight end/running back hybrid position has paid dividends for the 49ers. Senior C.J. Crawford and redshirt freshman Justin Bolus have played big roles in the offense, often third-down situations. Grade: A-minus
Offensive line: Anytime an offense averages all those yards and points, the line is doing an excellent job. And, oh yeah, Johnson has been sacked just four times. Recent injuries to guard Daniel Blitch and center Thomas La Bianca are testing the lines depth. But guard Casey Perry and center Mason Sledge have been solid. Grade: B-plus
Highlights: Charlotte is the best ball-hawking team in the country, leading FCS in takeaways (22) and fumbles recovered (12) and fourth in interceptions (10).
Lowlights: The 49ers tend to give up a lot of points (26.7 per game) and yards (387.0).
Defensive line: This young groups depth is also an issue with the loss for the season of junior end Devon Johnson, who was leading the team in sacks with 2.0. Nose tackle Larry Ogunjobi, who has been playing with an injured finger, has done a good job stuffing the run and has four tackles for a loss. But too often opposing runners are breaking through the line, creating problems for the linebackers and secondary. Grade: C-plus
Linebackers: Caleb Clayton-Molby is third in the FCS in fumble recoveries (three). A solid group thats gotten great leadership from Mark Hogan. Grade: B
Secondary: Its not a good sign when a teams leading tackler is a safety, as is the case with Martay Mattox (49). Young cornerbacks Tank Norman, Greg Cunningham Jr., Devin Pearson and Terrance Winchester are getting plenty of playing time and learning as they go. Grade: B-minus.
Special teams: Kicker Blake Brewer has made 6-of-10 field goals, with a long of 43. Brandon Strupp has dropped eight punts inside the 20. Hunter has returned a kickoff for a touchdown and averages 24.6 yards per return. But two field goals and an extra point have been blocked and N.C. Centrals kickoff return for a score to open the second half was a critical play in that game (a 40-13 loss). Grade: C
Coaching: Its hard not to say that the coaching staff hasnt gotten about as much out of this team as possible so far. The only really disappointing game was N.C. Central, but mistakes (turnovers, mostly) have been corrected in what is now a two-game winning streak. The 49ers are two victories away from clinching a winning season with at least three games (UNC Pembroke, Wesley, Morehead State) in which they will be favored. That would be quite an accomplishment for a rookie head coach (Brad Lambert) and a staff working together for the first time. Grade: A-minus
Scott: 704-358-5889; Twitter: @davidscott14
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