The Will Healy era unofficially opens Tuesday when the Charlotte 49ers start spring football practice.
Healy, hired to coach the 49ers after Brad Lambert was fired in November, inherits 12 returning starters off a team that went 5-7 in 2018. Here are five things to watch for as the 49ers start to think about their season opener against Gardner-Webb on Aug. 31 in Richardson Stadium:
▪ As seems to be the case every spring, the 49ers’ quarterback job is up in the air. Sophomore Chris Reynolds was the starter last season before he hurt his ankle. Senior Evan Shirreffs was a capable backup but didn’t do anything to position himself for the starting spot for next season. There’s also redshirt freshman Brady Pope to consider, as well as grad transfer Brett Kean (South Florida), who will join the program in August. The key for Healy will be to see how fully Reynolds has recovered from his injury.
▪ Finding replacements for the three offensive linemen who graduated (including all-conference guard Nate Davis) may be Healy’s biggest challenge. Center Jaelin Fisher and tackle Cameron Clark return. Clark, who will miss the spring with a hip injury, was graded Conference USA’s top run blocker last season by Pro Football Focus.
▪ Healy’s 4-2-5 defense will place a premium on rushing the passer, and he will have his eyes on how ends Tyriq Harris and Alex Highsmith respond to that this spring. Also, the new defense requires a nickel back, and Healy said that position could be filled by any of the defensive backs already on the roster, including returning starters Ben DeLuca and D.J. Anderson. It also might be one of the 49ers’ smaller linebackers who lands the nickel job.
▪ Although the 49ers lost two starters at receiver (Workpeh Kofa and Mark Quattlebaum), they’re in good shape at that spot with Victor Tucker and Rico Arnold, both of whom had outstanding freshman seasons in 2018. At least one other player will need to emerge, but that might not happen until August, when freshmen Jamel Brown, Noah Henderson and Micaleous Elder arrive.
▪ Practices are open to the public and Healy says he welcomes fans. Word of warning: the sessions run from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. (yes, that is a.m.) Tuesdays and Thursdays, and from 9 a.m.-11 a.m. Saturdays. Healy said the early starts are because that’s the only time on those days that doesn’t conflict with players’ class schedules. Spring practice lasts until the 49ers’ Green-White spring game on April 13 at 4 p.m. Fans should be prepared to watch Healy’s high-energy, enthusiastic practices, with the entire team celebrating exceptional individual plays.