The 49ers rank No. 127 in Athlon's Top 130 for 2018
In just its sixth season, Charlotte is still a relatively young football program. But in the wake of last season's program-worst 1-11 campaign, it was time to take an honest look at where things stood, leading to an overhaul of the coaching staff.
Previewing Charlotte Football's Offense for 2018
After his team notched one win and finished near the bottom of Conference USA in points and yards, coach Brad Lambert opted to shake up his offensive staff. He brought in a new coordinator in Shane Montgomery -- a familiar name to area football fans thanks to his stint as a standout quarterback at NC State in the late 1980s -- and a new offensive line coach in former Tulane head coach Chris Scelfo.
Montgomery looks to install a pro-style offense that will be a departure from the spread look that gave dual-threat quarterback Hasaan Klugh room to rush for 532 yards last season. Klugh, a senior who's started the past two seasons, could end up being an odd fit for the new scheme. And with several contenders for the starting gig -- including grad transfer Evan Shirreffs from Miami (Fla.) -- the quarterback job could be unsettled heading into the fall.
"One of the things I think we need to improve on is being more efficient throwing the ball and having that balance," Lambert says.
The quarterback who eventually wins the job will have the luxury of playing behind an experienced offensive line that returns four starters. Running back Benny LeMay returns after rushing for a team-high 732 yards last season. There are some experienced weapons in the passing game with seniors Mark Quattlebaum and R.J. Tyler back, but the 49ers will look to younger players to make an impact.
Previewing Charlotte Football's Defense for 2018
Much like on the offensive side, the 49ers defense will have to adjust to a new system as former Oklahoma State assistant Glenn Spencer takes over as the defensive coordinator. He will likely incorporate more of a 4-3 scheme.
Spencer will have plenty to work with as linebacker Jeff Gemmell and safety Ben DeLuca return after logging more than 100 tackles apiece last season. Senior end Zach Duncan is back after leading the team with three sacks in 2017. He'll be joined by 2016 Conference USA All-Freshman selection Tyriq Harris, who had 4.5 tackles for a loss last season.
In all, 10 starters return from a defense that struggled at times. "We have a lot of core guys back on defense, so I expect us to play better on defense and create more turnovers," Lambert says. "We played well in spots last year, but the one area where we've got to get better is third-down efficiency. We've got to get ourselves off the field."
Previewing Charlotte Football's Specialists for 2018
Placekicking was a sore spot last season as the 49ers' kickers converted only 4-of-13 field goal attempts and missed three extra points. True freshman Jonathan Cruz is considered the most promising candidate to solve the issues. Meanwhile, junior Jackson VanSickle and sophomore Kyle Corbett are among a crowded field of contenders to replace solid punter Arthur Hart. Running back Aaron McAllister is the only player coming back who saw meaningful action in the return game last season.
Lambert has been the only coach the 49ers have known, and with some encouraging seasons early in the program's history, he has built some equity. But with a new athletics director taking the reins this year, it'll be important to show serious improvement in order to avoid more changes.