College Sports

New coordinator, new formation: What are Charlotte 49ers’ biggest concerns on defense?

Glenn Spencer is in his first season as the Charlotte 49ers’ defensive coordinator.
Glenn Spencer is in his first season as the Charlotte 49ers’ defensive coordinator.

New Charlotte 49ers defensive coordinator Glenn Spencer knows he has plenty of work to do.

Spencer, a former defensive coordinator at Oklahoma State, is working with a unit that allowed 32.8 points and 455 yards per game on the way to an 1-11 record last season. With nine starters returning - including All-Conference USA honorable mention linebackers Jeff Gemmell and Juwan Foggie and safety Ben DeLuca - Spencer is installing a 4-3 defense he hopes will lead to more sacks (11 last season) and interceptions (two last season), not to mention fewer yards and points.

The Observer’s David Scott spoke with Spencer about his early impressions of Charlotte’s defense:

Q. What’s your overall sense of the defense?

A. We don’t have a lot of seniors on defense, but there’s a lot of kids that have had a lot of playing time. They were based on 3-4 personnel last year, but shifted down to a lot of four-down looks. We’ll be based with four down, but will shift to three. We’ve got a lot of smart kids. Things that are a little different, I’ll have to emphasize. That’s my job. That’s how we’re going to play now. But I’ve been impressed. They’ve bought in.

Q. How are the players taking the changes?

A. We’re different from the last staff. But that happens in ball. I’m here now, not at Oklahoma State. Coaches decide to make changes; that’s just part of our profession. But the kids are hungry to win. They’re on the edge of their seats.

Q. Is it difficult to get them to feel good about themselves?

I’ve been on both sides. You never know when that game or even that one play will be the one to turn it. But all of a sudden you find ways to win games in the fourth (quarter) as opposed to losing games in the fourth. In Stillwater, we could come back in games. We found a lot of ways to win in the fourth quarter. I think we were near the top of the nation in winning games by less than a touchdown. A lot of that comes from maturity and consistency. I think that will show this year in coach (Brad) Lambert’s culture. It takes a while; it took us a while out there. But once you have it, it breeds success. That’s what we’re all wanting. We want this to be the year.

Q. Who’s impressed you most?

A. It starts with Jeff (Gemmell). He was elected captain by his teammates. From day one I’ve known he’s the guy. I’ve tried not to watch too much film from last year and not have any preconceived ideas. But he’s been there since day one. He’s a lead dog, to be sure.

Q. How does the rest of the unit stack up?

A. Our two defensive ends, Alex (Highsmith) and Tyriq (Harris) can play at a lot of different places and we need them to be good this year. They played the same position last year, so having them both on the field at the same time will help us. At safety, (Ben DeLuca and Ed Rolle) have played a lot of ball. They’re steady, smart and catch concepts really well. At corner, Quinton Jordan is a perfect example of a (junior college) transfer who did some decent things last season, but all of a sudden in the spring and (training camp), things start clicking for him. He’s got a great maturity level and he’s bought in.

Q. What’s your biggest concern?

A. I feel good about the defense all across the board, but I am concerned about depth. I’m concerned about the quality of the next-level guys, that we don’t have a big drop-off. That’s a big concern. I don’t know how many practices we have left, but we need them all.

Q. Only 11 sacks and two interceptions by the defense last season. How do you improve on those numbers?

A. That’s a fluke. You drill, there might be some coverage concepts you change that leads to more interceptions than others. That’s all tied into the pass rush. We didn’t force a lot of bad throws. You get asked why that happens, and you say, you get a guy on his heels and the ball goes out wrong. You see a better pass rush, you’ll see more interceptions, I bet.

David Scott: @davidscott14