Photo credit: Charlotte Football Twitter
I touched on the key offensive additions last week, so now lets jump to the other side of the ball. Much like on the offensive side of the ball, Biff Poggi and Charlotte added over 20 new faces on the defensive side. The group will undoubtedly look almost entirely new, and after 2 years of finishing at or near the bottom of FBS, its for the best. It’s conceivable that 75% or more of the defensive starters will be new faces. When you look at who needs to be replaced from outgoing players, Markees Watts (Tampa Bay undrafted free agent) and Amir Siddiq (B.C. Lions in the CFL) are the most significant losses. Let’s jump on into the top 5 additions.
Eyabi Okie, Defensive Line
A former elite recruit from St. Frances Day that started out at Alabama before winding up at Michigan. He’s a PFF First Team All-AAC Defense selection, Charlotte’s only nominee on either side of the ball. Last year for the Wolverines, Okie was a backup and managed to secure 7 sacks. If Eyabi Okie lives up to the hype, he could be Charlotte’s third defensive player to be drafted.
Nikhai Hill-Green, Linebacker
NHG is another former Michigan Wolverine/St Frances Academy player. He’s a 6’2 232 athlete, and missed the entirety of last year with a soft-tissue injury. In 2021 he played in 14 games, which included 6 starts. Expectations are high and I look for him to make an instant impact for Ryan Osborn’s defense.
Julius Welschof, Defensive Line
Once again, another transfer from Michigan. Welschof though has a bit less experience on the field compared to NHG and Okie, but his athletic prowess is off the charts, and was highlighted in The Athletic’s “Freaks list” in 2022. During his time at Michigan he tallied 23 tackles.
Stone Handy, Linebacker
Handy, a transfer during the Will Healy era, had to sit out last season and gives Charlotte another pass rusher on the outside. He started out at Auburn (2 seasons, one being COVID), and then 1 year with Indiana. A former top 100 recruit, Handy possesses the raw talent and athleticism to wreak havoc for Charlotte.
C.J. Burton, Defensive Back
Burton is a transfer from Boston College, who also played at St. Frances Academy. With multiple starts at the Power 5 level during his first 2 years, Burton is projected as a starting Corner for Charlotte.
Katron Evans, Defensive Line
Demon Clowney, Defensive Line
Demetrius Knight, Linebacker
Malik Puryear, Defensive Line
TeQuan Latimore, Defensive Back
Biff Poggi has mentioned a “top 15” defense on several occasions, and while the talent appears drastically overhauled, I’m not sure it can go from where it was to that level in one offseason. The front seven should be the anchor of this defense. If enough of the new faces on-field performance match up to their pedigree, they could wind up being one of the better groups in the AAC.