The starting quarterback job for the Charlotte 49ers is an open competition between three players. They all know what’s at stake.
“Everybody looks at the quarterback as being the ‘guy,’ ” said quarterbacks coach Mark Carney on Wednesday, minutes after the 49ers had completed their first preseason practice. “They understand the responsibilities that come with playing the position.”
If the 49ers’ season opener against Gardner-Webb was this week rather than on Aug. 29, handicapping who would be under center might not be that difficult. Sophomore Chris Reynolds, last season’s starter before he was sidelined by an ankle injury, was the the clear No. 1 coming out of spring practice.
But some of that had to do with the fact that senior Evan Shirreffs, who took over for Reynolds last season with some success, missed practice time and the spring game with a concussion.
And there’s this: Brett Kean, a graduate transfer from South Florida, wasn’t yet on Charlotte’s campus in the spring.
So the presence of Shirreffs and Kean — as well as redshirt freshman Dylan Ratliff — has first-year coach Will Healy and Carney looking hard at who will be the starter.
“No. 1 is taking care of the football,” Healy said of what he’s looking for from a starter. “Then there’s the intangible side of it: Who gets the best out of people around them; that’s extremely important at this position.
“And who executes best. He has to have the athletic ability to do it, to throw the ball. It’s consistency we’re looking for.”
Reynolds, a former walk-on, was a surprise winner of last season’s starting job under former coach Brad Lambert, beating out Shirreffs and Hasaan Klugh, the 2017 starter. Reynolds was effective, completing 64.9% of his passes for 1,173 yards and six touchdowns, until he injured his ankle in the sixth game of the season against Western Kentucky.
Reynolds was asked how he would describe the competition for this season’s starting spot.
“Healthy,” he said. “We’re always here for each other. If there are questions, we can go to each other, just like last year. We’re trying to make the team better however we can.”
Shirreffs, who arrived in Charlotte in 2018 as a grad transfer from Miami, took over for the injured Reynolds and threw for 631 yards and two touchdowns before being replaced by Klugh in the final two games of the season.
“One thing I can say, it’s good to see everyone working hard,” Shirreffs said. “Even though we may not be the best of friends, we all respect the work. It brings us tighter together.”
Kean played three seasons at South Florida, and although he wasn’t a starter, played in 16 games, completing 56.3% of his passes for 333 yards and three touchdowns.
When Kean decided to play his final season elsewhere after graduating from USF, Charlotte’s coaches were the first to get in contact with him. That kind of enthusiasm, along with a strong impression made by a campus visit, sold him on the 49ers.
“I really had no idea about Charlotte until I came for my visit,” said Kean, who’s hoping the NCAA will grant him an additional season of eligibility. “I’d heard the story about them being a start-up program [in 2013], a really young program. And I thought USF was a pretty young program [starting in 2000]. I thought that was awesome. I wanted to come and help put my stamp on it.”
Kean, a stocky 6-foot-1, 221-pounder, said he can be a double threat.
“I’m a pocket passer who’s able to get out of the pocket and make plays,” he said. “If I break the pocket, I can get down field and still make plays with my arm, but I’ve got enough athletic ability to make plays with my feet, as well.”
Healy said a decision won’t be made on who wins the job until at least Aug. 10, when the team will hold its first scrimmage. Carney, who came to Charlotte from Virginia State, where he was offensive coordinator, likes that his three candidates all have ample playing experience.
“They all have grit, a tireless work ethic and are relentlessly driven,” Carney said. “Here’s an SAT word for you,” he said. “Indefatigable. That describes them.”