From the desk of the Charlotte Observer
Is Charlotte a football school? Through 60 games the 49ers were 14-46 overall and 13-25 in conference play. Charlotte finished the 2022 season 4-8 and looked to be on the upswing as they had combined for just five wins over the previous three seasons. Coach @Isaac returned to the helm of Charlotte late in the season and led them to a 3-2 finish over their last five games in 2022. That set the stage for a big 2023 campaign from a flatly awful C-USA team. Charlotte rode the back of Chris Billings to their first ever bowl bid as Billings was 278-417 for 3,516 yards and 26 touchdowns while adding 468 yards and 8 touchdowns on the ground. They made the Bahamas Bowl where they locked into a duel with 6-6 Cincinnati but ultimately fell by a final score of 30-24. This finished their year with a 9-4 record and was by far the best season in program history. It was a successful season as Coach Isaac had their preseason C-USA ranking written on the wall in the locker room and the team played with a chip on their shoulder the entire year. In the preseason @Rome, the CFBHC resident forecaster, gave the team a 45.27 rating, good for a preseason power ranking of 12th of 14 teams in the conference. The 49ers ended up finishing 3rd in the C-USA East while tied for the sixth best record in the conference. Now, they'll have to hit the reset button as the stud quarterback heads out along with many members of the successful year.
With the 49er faithful wanting to get the college basketball season quickly in the back burner, they are hoping to see a very viable team in the spring game coming up here in just a few short days. Charlotte is not heading towards a rebuilding year this season. They are retooling and should be able to compete for a spot at the top of the C-USA East this coming season. With all the graduates from last year, the 49ers have some very interesting positional battles that will have to be kept to close attention. The Charlotte Observer is keen on bringing you everything Charlotte football and with the spring game depth chart released, we want to take a deep dive into the spring game and what it could tell us about the 2024 season ahead. Below you'll find a myriad of potentialities for the 49er season ahead.
Starters Spots Locked in
RB Maximillian Carmichael 5-11 180 (Sr) Davie County (Mocksville NC) 4.0 of 4.0 [Speed]
#1 WR Gabriel Willis 6-3 166 (Sr) Orange (Hillsborough NC) 4.0 of 4.0 [Speed]
#2 WR Jon McIntosh 6-0 217 (Jr) Grady (Atlanta GA) 3.0 of 3.0 [Target]
TE Aden Ayers 6-2 225 (Jr) Chester (Chester SC) 3.5 of 3.5 [Blocking]
OT Bruce Hartman 6-4 285 (So) Orange (Hillsborough NC) 3.0 of 3.0 [Pass Blocking]
OG Desmond Rosenthal 6-2 326 (So) Crest (Shelby NC) 3.5 of 3.5 [Run Blocking]
OT Justin Petty 6-1 317 So Meigs County (Decatur TN) 2.5 of 3.0 [Run Blocking]
DT Terrence Echols 6-4 271 (Jr) Greenville (Greenville GA) 3.5 of 3.5 [1-Gap]
ATH (ILB) Chris Darling 5-11 236 (Jr) North Atlanta (Atlanta GA) 4.0 of 4.5 [Will]
ILB Diontray Starks 6-4 261 Jr Roane State Community College (Harriman TN) 3.5 of 4.0 [Mike]
OLB Jaden McDaniel 6-1 218 Jr New Hanover (Wilmington NC) 3.0 of 3.5 [Coverage]
CB Christopher Pollard 6-1 167 (So) Lejeune (Camp LeJeune NC) 3.5 of 3.5 [Zone Coverage]CB Khalil Barbour 5-10 204 Jr South Point (Belmont NC) 3.0 of 3.0 [Man Coverage]
SS Sean Moffett 6-0 181 (Jr) Thomas County Central (GA) 3.5 of 3.5 [Zone Coverage]
K Nathan Shell 6-1 213 Sr Manchester (Midlothian VA) 4.5 of 4.5 [Power]
P Dante Sandoval 6-3 183 (Jr) Mitchell-Baker (Camilla GA) 4.0 of 4.5 [Accuracy]
LS Javier McCray 6-1 242 Sr Druid Hills (Atlanta GA) 3.5 of 3.5 [Specialized]
As you can see there are some recognizable names in the spots where we know there will be no competition. Carmichael and Willis return as studs on the offensive side of the ball and should once again have a great year. McIntosh will very likely slide in as the #2 wideout after a few graduations and progressions. He'll be a very solid target guy on the outside. They will likely be starting Ayers again as he's proven to be able to block the best in the conference. Hartman will slide to the starting left tackle spot to protect the blindside of the QB as the best returning tackle on the team. Rosenthal should pencil in as the right guard with his run blocking ability. Petty is the best tackle to run block so we assume he'll slide into the right tackle position. On the defensive side of the ball, Echols should be the starter at the defensive tackle spot as the best tackle on the team. He'll hold down that spot for two years. They gain the services of Starks, a JUCO linebacker who will likely be slotting into the middle for the next two years. He is joined by Darling a returning linebacker who will make up half of the interior linebacking crew that is going to wreck havoc on offenses. McDaniel is the best outside backer on the team and so he'll be penciled in for one of the two spots at that position. Pollard and Barbour are both solid corners and combined for eight interceptions last year. They shouldn't be unseated this year. Moffett has waited his turn and now will be the starting strong safety as the most in concrete starting spot in the secondary. He's the best safety they have. The specialists return after being some of the best in the conference and they will look to be a formidable duo once again. McCray will likely be handling the longsnapping duties for the special teams. As you can see, there are only four spots locked in on both sides of the ball. Below we will look at the other spots and try to forecast the spring game battles
Spring Game Battles
QB Evander Gibson 6-0 187 (So) Ravenwood (Brentwood TN) 3.0 of 3.5 [Hybrid] OR
QB Mark Sanchez 6-4 194 Fr Frankfort (Frankfort IN) 3.0 of 3.0 [Hybrid]
Anything at this spot is going to be a drop off after Billings left. I would give Gibson the advantage to taking the lead and being the next starting quarterback. Gibson has a higher ceiling and I don't think that Charlotte is too keen on starting a true freshman at the quarterback spot, no matter the performance in the spring game. If Mark "buttfumble" Sanchez really turns heads in the spring game I think there is a chance but generally it is a poor idea to start a true freshman at QB, especially when you have a better option.
OG Branden Drummond 6-2 310 (So) Rosewood (Goldsboro NC) 3.0 of 3.0 [Pass Blocking] OR
OG Samir Driver 6-5 261 (So) Northside (Jacksonville NC) 3.0 of 3.0 [Pass Blocking]
This spot is up for grabs and I think the spring game is really going to play into the decision. Drummond is starting at the left guard spot in the spring game while Driver has flipped over to the right guard spot and is starting. Drummond was the backup left guard last year so I'd give him the edge to win this battle. If the spring game depth chart is any indication, I would say that Drummond is going to be your starting right guard this year because Desmond Rosenthal is the best guard on the team and he's a run blocker. Plus, Drummond is the one getting the nod at starting at the left guard spot.
C Bryan Blue 6-2 280 Sr Amite (Amite LA) 2.5 of 2.5 [Pass Blocking] OR
C Manuel Guerra 6-3 270 Jr Schley County (Ellaville GA) 2.5 of 2.5 [Pass Blocking] OR
OG Samir Driver 6-5 261 (So) Northside (Jacksonville NC) 3.0 of 3.0 [Pass Blocking]
Center is another question mark for Charlotte as they graduated their starter from last season. Both Blue and Guerra are starting for their respective squads and as the top two centers on the roster I would imagine that a decision is going to stem from the spring game performance of the two lines. I would give the advantage to Blue since he is a senior but coach Isaac could throw a wrench into the fold. Driver is starting at right guard in the spring game but will not be the starting right guard during the season. Drummond looks to have the upper hand at taking the left guard spot so Driver might end up sliding to the center position as the next best lineman on the team. We wonder if coach Isaac would be willing to sacrifice familiarity for getting his best players on the field.
Defensive End(s)DE Samuel Stokes 6-3 246 Sr Lejeune (Camp LeJeune NC) 3.5 of 3.5 [Blitz] ORDE Blake Emery 6-7 257 Sr South Point (Belmont NC) 3.5 of 3.5 [Blitz] OR
DE Javier Milton 6-0 246 Sr Swain County (Bryson City NC) 3.5 of 3.5 [Contain] OR
DE Neal Walls 6-1 268 (So) Hertford County (Ahoskie NC) 3.0 of 3.5 [Contain]
These are you four contenders for the defensive end spots. Stokes and Milton return as the starters but depending on the spring game their spots could be up for grabs. Stokes is a 99% lock after his 12 sack season last year and the fact that he found 10 stat sheets. If we consider him in, then the right defensive end spot will go to one of the remaining three guys and I think it's a tougher decision than most think. Milton was the starter last season and had 6.5 sacks but only found 5 stat sheets. If he performs well in the spring game he isn't losing his job. But if he doesn't and Milton or Walls performs very well they might take it over. Emery is an interesting case because coach Isaac could look to create a ton of pressure up front and slide in Emery to create a little more push this year as they likely switch to a 3-4. Walls is an outside contender if he has an outrageous spring game. One thing that Charlotte might consider is redshirting one of the seniors so that next season they can start dual 3.5 defensive ends.
OLB Alex Steele 6-3 235 So Graham (Bluefield VA) 2.5 of 3.0 [Coverage] OR
OLB Shawn Wilkes 6-2 235 Sr Central (St. Joseph MO) 2.5 of 2.5 [Coverage] OROLB Peter Pruitt 5-11 238 Sr Lower Richland (Hopkins SC) 2.5 of 2.5 [Coverage]
Wilkes was a starting outside linebacker last year but his spot is in jeopardy. Wilkes only found two stat sheets last season and had 12 tackles. That is just not going to cut in on this team as they look to contend. Sophomore Alex Steele has the inside edge to be the starter this year and unless he throws up a dud in the spring game he should be starting opposite of McDaniel. Pruitt is another name to watch and these three guys will have a battle deep into the summer for the starting spot. Overall the linebackers one of the deepest spots on the roster so it makes sense to have a battle until someone loses it this spring.
FS Jeremy Henderson 6-2 198 (Jr) Pasadena (Pasadena TX) 2.5 of 2.5 [Man Coverage] ORFS Dillon Benjamin 6-2 181 Sr Montoursville Area (PA) 2.5 of 2.5 [Zone Coverage] OR
SS George Brumfield-Fulton 6-2 200 (So) Page County (Shenandoah VA) 3.0 of 3.0 [Man Coverage] ORSS Jonathan Branch 6-0 210 (Jr) Sahuarita (Sahuarita AZ) 3.0 of 3.0 [Man Coverage]
This is a spot, like center, that could go either way. Benjamin was your starter last season but to put it bluntly - was not good. He only found three stat sheets and didn't have a stat other than tackles recorded. I think that coach Isaac can get creative with this position in the secondary. The frontrunners are the two rostered free safeties, Benjamin and Henderson, and I'd give the edge to literally whoever plays better in the spring game. Coach Isaac could potentially move one of the strong safeties to free safety to get the best players on the field but then again that would only happen if one of Brumfield-Fulton or Branch have a big spring game albeit from the strong safety spot. Brumfield-Fulton isn't even starting in the spring game so I would expect his chances of landing the gig are very slim. I think this one is a two player race with a chance for it to be opened up to Branch depending on how he plays.
Charlotte ratings via the Roman News Network