The Charlotte 49ers are moving into the second half of spring football practice. Here are a few takeaways from the first three weeks:
Coach Brad Lambert threw open the starting-quarterback job to juniors Matt Johnson and Lee McNeill and redshirt freshman Brooks Barden. It hasn’t exactly been an open competition: McNeill is returning this week after missing two weeks with a hamstring injury, and Barden could miss time after being diagnosed with mononucleosis a few days ago.
Only Johnson, the team’s starter for the past two seasons until missing the last three games of 2014 with a knee injury, has stayed healthy.
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“They’ve all rotated with the (first string) so far,” Lambert said. “I feel good about where they are. But it’s been unfortunate: First we lose Lee, and now it’s Brooks.”
Here’s Lambert’s take on how each has fared this spring:
On McNeill, who played well in relief of Johnson last season: “That kind of elevated (McNeill) in my eyes. I liked how he played down the stretch, how he practiced and how he handled himself. I thought he was our (starter) coming into the spring.”
On Barden, who has been practicing with first-team players for the first time: “I really like his temperament. He’s even-keeled, a lot like Lee. He’s picking things up quickly with his first real extensive time playing with the offense.”
On Johnson, who said his knee is 100 percent: “He’s an everyday guy, that’s the best thing about him. He knows our offense and has made a ton of plays for us. I like where he is.”
Was Johnson, who has thrown for 4,522 yards and 34 touchdowns in his career, upset that the job won’t be handed back to him?
“Not at all,” Johnson said. “That’s a great coaching move. It brings the best out in all of us, which makes us better on the field. That’s what Charlotte needs.
“It’s a dire situation for each of us if we don’t go out there and do the best we can.”
McNeill is one of four 49ers who have missed time this spring with a hamstring injury. Receivers Trent Bostick, Uriah LeMay and Workpeh Kofa also have been slowed by the same problem. And another wideout – Will Thomas – suffered a concussion in a scrimmage last week and is out indefinitely.
Lambert said Juwan Foggie is standing out in the crowded receivers position. Foggie, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound sophomore from High Point, played mostly on special teams last season but caught one pass for 15 yards.
Another linebacker loss
Linebacker Dustin Crouser, Charlotte’s second-leading tackler last season, has left school for personal reasons. Crouser is the second of the 49ers’ 2014 linebacker corps to leave the program, joining two-year starter Nico Alcalde. Defensive back Tre’Shun Wynn also has departed.
Lambert said linebackers Caleb Clayton-Molby and Nick Cook, who both missed most of last season to injury, have had good springs. Karrington King, who along with Crouser filled in for Clayton-Molby and Price, also has played well.
Competition at corner
Lambert said Devin Pearson (who redshirted last season as a sophomore) and Anthony Covington will press Greg Cunningham and Tank Norman at the corners.
Former 49ers linebacker Mark Hogan, who scored the first touchdown in Charlotte history in the program’s inaugural game in 2013, has joined the team as a graduate assistant.
Lights at Richardson Stadium have been installed and will be ready for the 49ers’ spring game on April 18. The 49ers already have one home night game scheduled for next season, Oct. 2 (Friday) against Temple.