The Charlotte 49ers start spring football practice on Saturday. They are hoping to bounce back from a 1-11 season in 2017 and will do so under the scrutiny of new athletics director Mike Hill.
Here are five questions the 49ers face heading into spring practice, which will conclude with the 49ers’ spring game April 21 at Richardson Stadium:
New coaches, new systems?
Although coach Brad Lambert was retained after last season, he made several changes to his staff, including at the coordinator level, bringing in Shane Montgomery (offense) and Glenn Spencer (defense). Lambert also recently hired Chris Scelfo (a former Tulane head coach who was at Houston last season and coached with Lambert at Marshall in the early 1990s) to coach the offensive line.
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Lambert said Montgomery will install a pro-style offense and Spencer’s defense will focus more on a four-man front.
20 starters return – a good thing?
Charlotte has all 11 starters back on defense and nine return on offense (both at the wide receivers position). But is that a positive for a team that went 1-11? Lambert said no job is guaranteed and it’s safe to assume that players like defensive tackle Dantrell Barkley (a junion college transfer who originally committed to South Carolina) will shake things up on the defensive line.
Good QB fit?
Hasaan Klugh, the 49ers’ starter for most of the past two seasons, is more of a duel-threat quarterback. How he adjusts to Montgomery’s drop-back, under-center system will be a major story for the spring. Lambert says the job is open, with senior Brooks Barden, redshirt freshman Mic Roof, sophomore Joe Thompson and redshirt freshman Chris Reynolds all getting a shot. And don’t forget about highly regarded freshman Brady Pope (South Iredell High), who will join the team this summer.
Who will punt?
The 49ers’ special teams were either really good or really bad last season. After Charlotte kickers missed 9-of-13 field goal attempts, Lambert signed a potentially strong replacement in freshman Jonathan Cruz. Punter Arthur Hart averaged an impressive 43.4 yards per punt, but he graduated. A punter replacement wasn’t signed and Lambert hopes Kyle Corbett, Jackson Vansickle or freshman walk-on John Brosnahan can step in.
What will be good enough?
Spring practice will be the 49ers’ first opportunity to start to turn around a program that struggled mightily in 2017, it’s fifth season of existence and just third playing in Conference USA and the Football Bowl Subdivision. How much of an improvement on their one-victory record will be enough for Hill to retain Lambert?
“We’ve already made changes with the coaching staff and with a lot of how we do things around here,” Lambert said. “There’s nobody putting any more pressure on us than myself and these coaches and players. We all want to win and be successful more than anybody.”
David Scott: @davidscott14