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Charlotte 49ers football: Observations from Wednesday

FBC_49ERS_04
John D. Simmons - jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com
Brad Lambert (center, with raised hand), Charlotte 49ers head coach, calls the team together near the beginning of practice Wednesday morning. The Charlotte 49ers kicked off their football season with the team's first practice with cool temperatures and under clear skies on Wednesday.

Observations from the Charlotte 49ers’ first preseason football practice Wednesday morning:

• There was a decidedly different feel to the workout from last season’s first practice, which opened the program’s inaugural season. With more scholarship players on hand – 74 opposed to 63 – the players appeared to be bigger, faster and more in tune to what the coaching staff wants. Things were helped also by a nice, cool morning, with temperatures in the upper 60s.

• Perhaps the best example of the new-look 49ers is right guard Daniel Blitch, who played last season at 320 pounds but has bulked up to 345. The increased weight appears all muscle. Whether that hinders his speed and quickness coming off the line, we’ll see.

• One open spot on the offense is at receiver , where Mikel Hunter – now a grad assistant – played last season. Dmarjai Devine, who played sparingly last season, got several reps with the first team on Wednesday morning.

• Running back Kalif Phillips changed his number from 25 to 3. “I like the single digits,” he said. Phillips, who led the 49ers with 716 yards and 12 touchdowns last season, said he’s ready to be the No. 1 back after Alan Barnwell was thrown off the team last spring. Top candidates to be the No. 2 back are Damarrell Alexander and Donjore Gainey.

• With Hunter graduated, the 49ers’ return game will be overhauled. Coach Brad Lambert said punt return candidates are Ardy Holmes, Austin Duke and Corey Nesmith. Trent Bostick and Alexander will get looks at kick returner.

• Kevin Donnalley, who handles radio color commentary for the 49ers, has been hired as an intern on Charlotte’s strength and conditioning staff. That’s a high-level intern: Donnalley was an offensive lineman for 13 seasons in the NFL, including three for the the Carolina Panthers. He played in college at Davidson and North Carolina.

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