The Charlotte 49ers have 12 starters returning for new coach Will Healy. But that means there will also be several players — some new to the program, some not — who will be counted on to fill key roles.
Here’s a look at who five of them might be:
Micaleous Elder, receiver
A source confirmed to the Observer on Monday that sophomore receiver Rico Arnold will miss the season with a foot injury. That means the 49ers will need someone to step into the No. 2 spot alongside sophomore Victor Tucker, the team’s clear No. 1 receiver. Among the candidates will be redshirt freshman Justin Jeffery, sophomore Cam Dollar (East Lincoln High) or junior Cam Bent. But watch for Elder, a true freshman out of Cleveland, Tenn., to push for the spot. He’s not big (5-9), but he’s speedy and shifty.
D’Mitri Emmanuel, guard
The 49ers lost three starters on the offensive line, but Healy is pleased with how this year’s group is progressing. Tackle Cam Clark and center Jaelin Fisher return, and senior Jalen Allen and sophomore Emmanuel appear to have won starting spots at guard.
Yet, Healy really likes what he’s seen from Emmanual, a former Marvin Ridge High player. “D’Mitri has been fantastic,” Healy said. “He’s a really good player.”
Brett Kean, quarterback
Kean, a grad transfer from South Florida and one of three players competing for the starting job, has quickly made an impression.
“Brett’s a guy we expected to be in the race, and every day he’s gotten better,” Healy said.
Healy also said that if none of the three — Kean, sophomore Chris Reynolds and senior Evan Shirreffs — separates from the others, he wouldn’t be averse to platooning.
“I wouldn’t want to do it. But if I had to I would, if one of them isn’t stepping up and being the guy,” Healy said. “But I’ve always felt good about our options. All three of them can take this program right now where we want it to go.”
Nafees Lyon, cornerback
Lyon isn’t an unfamiliar face with the 49ers, but he might be ready to become more of a regular contributor in the defensive backfield. A senior, he’s been with the program since 2015 after starring at Mallard Creek High. He redshirted one season, then played as a backup in 2016 before missing 2017 with an injury. He began to make his presence known in 2018, starting seven of Charlotte’s final eight games. Lyon forced a fumble and had five pass-breakups over that time. How serious is he about making an impact this season? He was singled out by cornerbacks coach Eddie Hicks on the first day of practice.
Marquil Osborne, cornerback
A grad transfer from Tennessee who played at Hough High, Osborne already has made his presence known and should have an impact in a defensive backfield that lost two starters.
“He’s talented, can run and has great coverage and ball skills,” Healy said of Osborne, who had two interceptions last season for the Volunteers against Kentucky. “If you have two interceptions in an SEC game, that shows you something.”