After losing Brandon Banks, Tanner Fleming and Larry Ogunjobi, the Charlotte 49ers football team entered the spring with perhaps its most vital goal being to develop the defensive line.
As the 49ers prepare for their spring game at 6 p.m. on April 22, coach Brad Lambert said he’s seen that group make significant strides.
“Those guys are progressing as we get past the halfway point here, and we’ve got to continue that process,” Lambert said. “Those guys are doing a nice job. They’re young guys and they’re going to be forced into action next year.”
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Lambert didn’t hesitate to call redshirt freshmen Austin Paraison and Johnny Ray two of the defensive linemen who have impressed him the most..
Redshirt senior Nick Carroll is Charlotte’s lone retuning starter on the defensive line. Redshirt junior Tyler Fain is currently penciled in as the 49ers’ starting defensive tackle, according to Lambert.
Redshirt sophomore Randy Suydam — who showed flashes last season and who Lambert said is working on getting situated academically — figures to be the other starter on the defensive line in the 49ers’ 3-4 defense.
Although Paraison and Ray might not earn starting nods, their growth this spring and going forward could be crucial.
This spring ... we’ve been able to take those freshmen and develop some depth.
Charlotte 49ers head football coach Brad Lambert
“I feel like what’s happened this spring is we’ve been able to take those freshmen and develop some depth …” Lambert said. “We’ve got some good young players. They just need to finish out spring, have a great summer and then have a really good August.”
The loss of starting center Thomas La Bianca left Charlotte with a noticeable hole along its offensive line entering the spring.
Jean Eason, a transfer from City College of San Francisco who still hasn’t joined the team, will likely compete for that spot this fall. However, Lambert said junior Darren Drake has made an early claim to replace La Bianca.
“He’s the guy we needed to have a good spring, and he really has,” Lambert said of Drake, 6-foot-3 and 324 pounds. “He’s an extremely hardworking guy, and he’s done a nice job of snapping the ball this spring. He’s a load for us in there.”
The 49ers’ coaching staff underwent some shuffling this offseason after assistant head coach Dean Hood left for Kentucky and receivers coach Joe Tereshinski resigned to pursue opportunities outside of football.
Charlotte ultimately hired offensive line coach Greg Adkins and running backs coach Keith Henry, moving former offensive line coach Johnson Richardson to tight ends and former running backs coach Damien Gary to receivers.
“All in all,” Lambert said, “I really like the way all of the changes have gone and the way it’s really helped our players as we move forward.”