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49ers coach Brad Lambert searches for roster balance

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/22/19/57/1hNYd8.Em.138.jpeg|239
    DAVID T. FOSTER III - dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com
    Trent Bostick (81) caught 42 passes for 14.1-yard average and four touchdowns for the 49ers as a freshman last season.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/22/19/57/18v38o.Em.138.jpeg|241
    TODD SUMLIN - tsumlin@charlotteobserver.com
    Charlotte 49ers running back Kalif Phillips, a Kannapolis Brown High grad, rushed for 716 yards and scored 12 touchdowns last year.

Charlotte 49ers football coach Brad Lambert had an out-of-the box idea on how to manage his team’s roster as the program heads into its second season on the field.

The plan: to redshirt several freshmen from 2013 – a few of whom were Charlotte’s top players – this season. That would give them three years of eligibility remaining in 2015, when the 49ers move into Conference USA and the NCAA’s Football Bowl Subdivision.

With plenty of depth returning at running back and wide receiver, Lambert hoped to redshirt leading rusher Kalif Phillips and Trent Bostick, who caught 42 passes for 14.1-yard average and four touchdowns last season.

But circumstances have dictated otherwise for Lambert. Running back Alan Barnwell, who gained 636 yards as a redshirt freshman last season, was thrown off the team during the spring. Wideout Jamel Ross, who missed last season with an injury, was also dismissed from the team.

Both dismissals were for violation of team rules, although Barnwell was arrested in January for possession of drug paraphernalia and driving while license revoked.

So, with the depth at those positions now compromised, Lambert thinks Phillips and Bostick will likely be on the field when the 49ers open their season Aug. 28 at Campbell.

That’s good for this season. Phillips, a Kannapolis Brown High grad, rushed for 716 yards and scored 12 touchdowns last year. Bostick, from Richmond Senior, quickly became one of the 49ers’ top deep threats. But it would leave them each with just two seasons of eligibility left when Charlotte (which is playing as a Football Championship Subdivision independent again this season) moves to Conference USA.

“We’ll probably have to play those guys,” said Lambert, whose 49ers went 5-6 last season. “Kalif was doing great last year and we were wanting to keep those three years for him (starting in 2015), but I don’t know that we’ll be able to now. We’re hoping that maybe we can do it with Trent still, but we’ll have to see how preseason practice turns out.”

The 49ers could probably have afforded not to have Phillips in the lineup had Barnwell stuck around. Barnwell, the first player to commit to Charlotte three years ago, was the starter for much of the season before Phillips began to assert himself late.

Junior Damarrell Alexander (280 yards, one touchdown) also showed flashes of promise and might have been a capable No. 2 back behind Barnwell.

The same holds true of Bostick and Ross, who starred in Charlotte’s 2012 spring game before injuring his knee last summer. Lambert’s hope of still being able to redshirt Bostick is based on an even deeper receiving corps, led by sophomore Austin Duke (727 yards, six touchdowns), and Corey Nesmith Jr. Dmarjai Devine and slot Emmitt Afam could also contribute.

Charlotte loaded up on receivers in this year’s freshman class, signing Juwan Foggie, T.L. Ford and Workpeh Kofa (Independence High), but Lambert hopes they can be redshirted.

All is not lost for Lambert’s idea, though. He’s hopeful he can redshirt other freshmen from last season, the possibilities including linebacker Justin Bridges-Thompson, offensive tackle Wolfgang Zacherl and defensive back Devin Pearson.

Bridges-Thompson and Pearson saw plenty of action last season.

Kicker Blake Brewer and long snapper Keaston Sinicki, freshmen last year, aren’t candidates to be redshirted.

“Balancing the roster is something we’re always looking at,” said Lambert. “This is a way we can do that. We’ll keep at it.”

Notes

• Nesmith broke his foot this summer, but Lambert said he expects him to be healthy by the time the season starts. Defensive end Devon Johnson continues to recover from an Achilles injury he suffered last season.

• Lambert reconfirmed that the 49ers have a game at Kentucky scheduled in 2015, although as the home team the Wildcats have yet to officially announce it.

• Preseason practice will begin next Wednesday. Practices will be 7-9 a.m. for the first few weeks, moving to the afternoon later in August as the 49ers begin to become acclimated to a 7 p.m. start against Campbell.

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