What to expect at the Charlotte 49ers’ spring football game at Richardson Stadium

There’s something distinctly different about watching this edition of the Charlotte 49ers football team.

While new faces slot nearly every group on the field and position battles are beginning to take shape, one thing is very clear — the offense is much improved.

Although head coach Biff Poggi stated repeatedly that he planned to bring the Big Ten style of offense (ground-and-pound rushing attack mixed with play-action) to Charlotte in his introductory press conference, this team is a bit different in year two, according to Poggi.

Following a season in which Charlotte’s defense — led by defensive coordinator Ryan Osborn — kept the 49ers competitive in nearly every game, this year’s team is more balanced. And after watching the defense dominate the offense through the spring and fall in Poggi’s first year, the offense is starting to flip the script — and there’s more help on the way.

Saturday’s spring game will mark the 15th and final practice of the spring season. The spring game, which is free and open to the public, will feature 11-on-11 and 7-on-7 formats and will kick off at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 20 at Jerry Richardson Stadium.

While Charlotte is awaiting the return of multiple defensive players from off-season surgeries, Poggi is impressed by the roster’s response through a tough slate of spring practices and is ready to get the fans back in Richardson Stadium Saturday night.

“We’ve come out of spring with only one injury, and I’ve never heard of that before,” Poggi told The Observer. “What we’re going to do on Saturday is what we did today. We’re going to do a full kicking game, and then a long 7-on-7. Then we’re going to get together and do offense vs. defense (11-on-11) and do predominantly passing. I think people should see some fun stuff on Saturday.”

Passing attack

Charlotte’s passing attack has taken strides from Poggi’s first season, where Charlotte used split-starters Trexler Ivey and Jalon Jones for much of the year. While a day-one starter hasn’t officially been named, Poggi has spoken highly about Florida transfer Max Brown from the day of his signing, and Brown has worked with the first group all spring.

“Now we have a guy at quarterback who can make all of the throws. He sees the field very well and he’s a terrific leader. If you had to draw up a wish list, he’d be it,” Poggi said of Brown. “Because of that, we’re going to use him. The AAC is a heavy passing league, and it’s going to make us much harder to defend — because we can run the football.”

The 49ers’ leading target from a season ago, Colin Weber, has been impressed with Brown’s game since he stepped on campus.

“He’s super talented. He’s a baseball guy so he can make a lot of different throws on the run, with a lot of different arm angles,” Weber said of Brown. “He’s big and athletic, and he’s smart too, which is a really cool thing to see from a young guy. He’s been good, and he’s going to be really good. I’m super excited Trexler (Ivey) is back. That’s my roommate, and I love that dude. I’m excited to watch those guys compete.”

Weber was Charlotte’s security blanket on offense last season, becoming the first tight end in program history to lead the 49ers in receptions with 34. He totaled 362 yards on the season, highlighted by a career-best game of five catches for 117 yards against Memphis.

The tight ends were Charlotte’s most consistent offensive position group a season ago, and Weber wasn’t shy about how that room looks this season, led by associate head coach and tight ends coach Tim Brewster.

“I think we’re one of the best tight end rooms in the country, and I have no problem telling that to anyone,” Weber told The Observer. “Jake (Clemons) is back, Bryce (Kennon) is back and I am back, and we played a lot of football last year. Joey Bearns III is the best fullback in the country — that dude is a stud. And we’ve got Gus McGee who transferred in last year, and he’s gotten a lot better. I think we’ve got some studs. We’re going to have some big dudes out there.”

Weber has added 12 pounds to his frame and after a breakout season with the “best hands on the team,” according to Poggi, the redshirt junior prioritized run blocking and footwork this offseason.

“I think the biggest thing for me was just watching tape. Watching some of the best guys, like George Kittle and Brock Bowers,” Weber said.

Barnes’ wideouts

After scoring just 17.5 points and averaging 167.8 passing yards per game last season, which ranked bottom 15 in the nation for both categories, it was clear that Charlotte needed a new quarterback and new receivers on the perimeter. Leading the wideouts is Jason Barnes, who was promoted to wide receiver coach after serving as an offensive analyst for the 49ers last season.

Barnes got his start at Dutch Fork, where he produced former 49er and current Minnesota Golden Gopher Elijah Spencer, current New York Giant Jalin Hyatt, Arizona wideout Devin Hyatt, and Clemson wideout Antonio Williams, among others.

Charlotte’s mix of returnees and new faces from multiple levels of college football have impressed Poggi through the spring, and the 49ers are continuing to add through the transfer portal, highlighted by Maryland’s Corey Dyches committing to Charlotte last week.

“He won’t be here for this, but we did get Corey (Dyches) and we’re excited about him,” Poggi said. “Justin Olson, who started his career at North Carolina, is a really good player. Jaden Bradley has played out of his mind, and so has Duane Thomas Jr. I’ll tell you something that’s really surprised me — that’s Sean Brown. He has played out of his mind. He’s a true deep threat, and we’re really happy with him.”

While the mix of new faces has displayed a different type of athleticism and separation from a season ago, Weber is most impressed with the group’s ability to do the dirty work — run blocking.

“One of the biggest improvements in their blocking. I’m a huge fan of our wide receiver coach Jason Barnes. I think he’s a ball coach. It’s been fun to see those guys stick their faces in there in the running game, and they’ve learned what we’re trying to do on offense in the passing game.”

Stadium expansion update

With just over four months until the season opener against James Madison on Aug. 31, Saturday’s scrimmage will serve as an introduction of Poggi’s second-year group to Niner Nation. It is also slated to be the last spring game in Richardson Stadium’s current state, as the UNC Board of Governors approved a $60M expansion (phase one) of the 11-year-old Stadium on Thursday.

The first construction phase is slated to begin after the 2024 season, although a date is still to be determined. The initial phase will increase the stadium’s capacity to 18,170, including seven luxury suites, a new press box tower with premium seating, club seats, boxes, and more general seating for what is currently the smallest stadium in the FBS (15,314).