First-year Charlotte 49ers offensive coordinator Alex Atkins knows a couple things about successfully running the football.
He spent the past three seasons as Tulane’s assistant head coach and offensive line coach, where the Green Wave had a stellar rushing attack during his time in New Orleans. Last season, it ranked 20th nationally with an average of 231.5 rushing yards per game, and when he was at Georgia Southern in 2015, the Eagles led the country with 363 yards per game.
Atkins, a former player at Tennessee-Martin who coached with new 49ers head man Will Healy at Chattanooga from 2012-13, talked with the Observer about his new job at Charlotte:
Q. What’s your take on the quarterback competition between Chris Reynolds and Brett Kean?
“It’s fun to watch. They’re two guys who can elevate others’ games, and that’s what you want. I feel comfortable with both of them, whichever one of them will be fine. But I believe we’re still a long way from deciding. Every day, each guy gives us a different look.”
Q. How would you describe their differences?
“Chris, it’s just his composure. He’s played games on this level. The team trusts him. Brett has that live arm. He’s got that great personality and the guys also like him. That’s what makes this really interesting.”
Q. You’ve been a part of some great rushing offenses. How does it feel having a back like senior Benny LeMay, who’s closing in on the program’s all-time rushing record?
“Oh, man, you don’t know. He’s been here a long time and he’s put a lot of yards on the ground. Hopefully, he’ll continue to do that.”
Q. You have one of Conference USA’s top receivers in Victor Tucker. What does he do best?
”He’s done well ever since he got here. He came back from a little bump and bruise earlier in camp. That’s the thing we like about him. He fights through adversity. He’s a guy on the sideline, when things don’t go well, he has got his mouth open.”
Q. What makes Tucker so effective despite not having blazing speed?
“It’s like they always used to say: the best speed is fast enough. There’s no such thing as good or bad speed. Just be fast enough when it’s time to make a play.”
Q. There have been lots of injuries on the offensive line during the preseason. How does that affect what you’re trying to do?
“Some young guys are having to step up and take the reps. But now it helps our depth. Now we have more volume. The more depth we have, the more the guys buy into what we’re doing more.”
Q. How will things be different with your new spread option offense?
“It’s going to depend, game to game, how to run it. Who’s the [quarterback] and how’s best to make it work. Some run it better under center, some under the gun. But I’m old school. I’ve been told for so long as an offensive line coach by the coordinator that what you do should be based on skill and ability, what the line can block. So it will be done on that, the skill and ability of who’s available.”
Q. Charlotte’s offense moved the ball fairly well last season, but had trouble scoring, averaging 21.7 points. What’s your remedy for that?
“Some of that is they had three, four guys taking snaps. They had a couple of injuries. They lost [all-Conference USA guard] Nate [Davis] for a little while. They were still learning under a first-year coordinator [Shane Montgomery]. They did a good job, but you need some continuity and familiarity working with each other. What this place is looking for is consistency. If we can provide that, we’ll be OK.”