Defensive coordinator Matt Wallerstedt was hired by the Charlotte 49ers in January to fix a defense that was among the most porous in the country last season. Wallerstedt, a college teammate at Kansas State of 49ers head coach Brad Lambert, has had several weeks to work with his defense as Charlotte prepares for its first season in Conference USA. As Wallerstedt got ready for Charlotte’s spring game Saturday, he talked about his first impressions of the 49ers defense with the Observer’s David Scott.
Q. From what you’ve seen, what were the major problems with Charlotte’s defense last season?
A. “Depth, I think. And there were injuries that sat some guys down that really affected things. So you’ve got guys coming in and out, and others who are asked to play a lot of snaps. (Nose tackle) Larry Ogunjobi might have to play 85 snaps. He’s wearing out and getting tired because of that.
A. “From what I’m hearing, we weren’t near as aggressive as we could have been with the play calling. I’m not knocking (former coordinator) Bruce (Tall), but there was a lot of rushing three and dropping eight. The quarterback had a lot of time to sit back there and see the picture, with not enough pressure coming at him.”
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Q. How will this defense differ from last season’s?
A. “We’ll have a lot more movement, as opposed to having an anchor front. We’re not big enough to do that. We’ll have multiple fronts, picking and choosing our weekly menu depending on the opponent. We’ll rush three at times, depending, but you will also see a lot of five- and six-man pressure from us.”
Q. How have you been received by the team?
A. “Any time there’s a coaching change and a new face is in the building, it takes a while to build trust. They were a little leery of what was going to happen. Who is this guy? But as we’ve gone through the spring, I think the kids are happy with things. They like the multiple looks, the movement. I want them to be aggressive and when they hear that from me, it elevates their play. They’ll believe that and play that way. So there’s been a little bit of blue smoke and mirrors. But they’ve done good picking up the new packages. We’ve thrown the kitchen sink at them.”
Q. What was your take away from watching film from 2014?
A. “I didn’t look at any film until we got to spring and of our practices now. That’s when I wanted to see how they perform. I didn’t want any preconceived opinions. I wanted it to be a clean slate. I told them all the jobs were open.”
Q. But there has been an acknowledgment that defense was a problem that needs to be fixed, right?
A. “They took some shots the first couple of years here when they were starting the program. At first they were playing as freshmen, then they were sophomores. Now it’s an older group. We’re looking to guys to step up as you would in any junior-heavy program.”
Q. What is the mindset you’re trying to establish with the defense?
A. “This is a hungry group that wants to lead the charge. It doesn’t want to take a back seat to an offense that scores a bunch of points. We want to be the leader of this thing. It doesn’t matter how many points the offense puts on the board, you have to play defense to win championships.”
Q. Will you coach from the press box or the sideline?
A. “On the field. There’s going to be a whole new learning curve with the staff and myself. But I like to be on the field as a motivator. I can look in the kids’ eyes and see how they’re doing. Is there a foggy look in his eyes after giving up a big play? What kind of body language is there?”
▪ The 49ers will open their 2018 season with a home game against Fordham of the Football Championship Subdivision, Fordham announced Wednesday. That completes Charlotte’s nonconference schedule for that season. The 49ers have a home game against against Appalachian State and road games against Massachusetts and Tennessee (although the Volunteers game hasn’t been officially announced).