Nick Cook admits that Charlotte’s defense went through some growing pains last year, its first season playing a full Conference USA schedule.
However, Cook said that experience proved beneficial for the 49ers’ returnees, especially during this month’s spring practices.
“It helped us tremendously,” Cook, a senior linebacker, said Thursday. “Last year, we had those growing pains. Each game, we felt ready, but we also didn’t know what to expect sometimes.
“We were also still trying to find our identity as a defense. As the year went on, we finally found that. Now what we’re going through in the spring, we’re putting the pieces together to make it perfect.”
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Charlotte – which finished 2-10 overall and 0-8 in its first C-USA season – returns eight defensive starters from that 2015 team, which had to shoulder more of the load as the 49ers’ offense struggled.
“Last year made us realize that how much you need the entire team, rather than just one unit,” said senior defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi, a second-team all-C-USA pick last year.
“It can’t just be the offense or the defense, it has to be the entire team. In order to win games, to win conference championships, to go to bowl games, it has to be the entire team.”
While Charlotte finished near the bottom of the league in scoring (12th at 17.5 points per game) and total offense (12th, 336.6 yards per game), the 49ers’ defense was eighth in total defense (419 yards per game), and fourth in passing defense at 228.4 yards per game, with 10 interceptions.
However, all the time Charlotte’s defense spent on the field had its downside, especially in the second half. Of the 49ers’ 435 points allowed last season, 243 were scored over the final two quarters and overtime.
“We put them in some bad spots last year,” Charlotte coach Brad Lambert said. “We had the opportunity to win four more games (last season), and we didn’t finish them for whatever reason. That’s a part of what we’ve been talking about, and the guys realize that.”
Collarbone sidelines Barden
Quarterback Brooks Barden, the starter in five of the 49ers’ games last season, will miss the rest of spring practice after breaking his collarbone during last Saturday’s scrimmage.
Lambert said the injury occurred when another player fell on Barden during the scrimmage. He has since undergone surgery, but Lambert did not have a timetable for his return.
“We’re not sure if it’s going to be eight, 10 or 12 weeks,” Lambert said. “It’s a hard loss. It puts him in a tough spot, no question. That’s why I feel bad for him, because he was competing hard. He wanted to be our quarterback.”
Barden, a redshirt sophomore, threw for 440 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions in seven games (including the five starts) last season for Charlotte.
He was one of five players – the others were senior Lee McNeill, redshirt sophomore Hasaan Klugh, graduate student Cody Keith and junior transfer Kevin Olson – battling to be the 49ers’ starting quarterback heading into the fall practices for the 2016 season.