Offensive thoughts: 2021 edition
With Chris Reynolds suffering the ill-fated “upper-body” injury on the first offensive snap of the season—then playing through it—and having 9 games or so impacted by COVID I’m going to handle 2020 recap with the following gif.
Many eyes will be on the backfield at the QB1 spot. When healthy Chris Reynolds (2021 Maxwell Award watch list nominee) is an upper-level QB in C-USA, but that when has unfortunately a big question mark for him. This off-season Will Healy and Mark Carney landed a former prospect, James Foster from Texas A&M. While Foster didn’t play much with the Aggies, the raw talent that led to such a high evaluation as a prospect is intriguing to say the least. I expect Reynolds to be tough to unseat at the QB1, but I will not be surprised if Foster gets involved early in the season with some drives to be prepared in case he’s needed. Beyond those 2, look for Dom Shoffner to be in the mix for QB2 with Foster, and I think we all hope to only see anyone else enter behind center in a favorable blowout situation. CLT did add a QB prospect, Xavier Williams, in this class. I expect a red shirt season for him as he suffered an injury late in his HS season.
You can’t talk about the QB spot without hitting on the Offensive Coordinator, Mark Carney, who is also CLT‘s QB Coach. Carney’s first season calling the plays was 2020, which I’ve already said I feel was a throw away season. With that said, I don’t think he’s on the hot seat, but I feel that there could be some extra pressure for the offense to perform and carry the team as the defense has a ton of question marks and may be depending heavily on transfers to revamp that side of the ball.
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Personally the biggest area of concern I have leading into this campaign is the offensive line. After the 2020 season concluded I would have told you Ty’Kieast Crawford and Jon Jacobs would both be in line heavy snaps this year, but now Crawford will be suiting up for Arkansas and Jacobs suffered an ACL injury this Spring (source). Add in the loss of Jaelin Fisher to graduation, you can see why this position group is causing the most disconcerting. Once again the program had turnover at the Offensive Line coaching position with Lee Grimes moving to Kansas (who is now at analyst at LSU due to the Les Miles fiasco), the hiring of Herb Hand who left within 2 weeks or so to rejoin Gus Malzahn at UCF. In a hiring that we can only hope brings stability to the position room, Will Healy hired Peter Rossomando, who was previously at Vanderbilt.
That said, CHARLOTTE did what they do very well, they hit the portal and landed 2 SEC transfers: T.J. Moore (former from Mallard Creek HS, 2 years remaining, Florida Gators) & Chibueze Nwanna (former JUCO prospect, 1 to 2 years remaining pending future NCAA ruling, Arkansas Razorbacks). Beyond the transfers the staff added several HS prospects as well, however most HS freshman are at least 1 season of development at the collegiate level away from commanding snaps.
When looking at the returning talent, D’Mitri Emmanuel has to be the first name to come to mind. I expect him to be the anchor for the OL, joined by Hunter Kelly, Ashton Gist, Panda Askew and the SEC transfers. Depth is a concern, we’ll need some youth to develop and be at-the-ready come Fall.
The Running Back’s room is light on experience, but heavy on talent. Shadrick Byrd, a former prospect, transferred in from Iowa and joins Calvin Camp (most experienced returner with 36 career carries),and a host of young RB’s: Chavon McEachern (11 carries for 43 yards as a FR), Elijah Turner (highly regarded RB prospect out of HS but battled injury last year) and Chavion Smith ( prospect from Statesville). Our offense is predicated on being able to run the ball, so there are 40 carries per game or so up for grabs. If I had to guess, I’d say we start with RB-by-committee to see who ultimately commands the majority of them, I’d wager it’s Turner, if he can remain healthy.
The Tight End spot is good hands with Taylor Thompson (2020 Conference USA all-Freshman Team & 2020 Freshman all-America Watch List). Thompson flashed on multiple occasions last year but if there is 1 area he can grow its in his ability to run block. Another COVID Freshman to keep an eye on will be Donta Armstrong. I was high on him coming out of nearby Vance HS, he’s more of a prototypical TE at 6’4, 245lbs, but is a really solid athlete as well. After those 2 I’m expecting to see a healthy dose of Ryan Carriere (congrats on getting married, Ryan!), who has opted to come back for another Senior campaign. I’m keeping my eyes on Bryce Kennon and Jake Clemons as well. Side note, it appears as those Christian Robeson is no longer on the roster and may be in a grad assistant role.
Last but not least, the Wide Receivers room is headlined by Victor Tucker (Second Team All-C-USA by coaches, Second Team All-CUSA by PFF, and Third Team All-CUSA by Phil Steele) and Cameron Dollar. After the 2020 season CHARLOTTE lost Micaleous Elder (Middle Tennessee) and Tyler Ringwood (Eastern Illinois) to the transfer portal which put a dent into the depth of the room. However, the portal giveth as well, CLT added Keith Pearson from Presbyterian, who was Second Team All-FCS last year. Pearson amassed 200 career catches, 2,304 yards and 10 touchdowns for the Blue Hose. Outside of Tucker & Dollar, there are only 2 catches while in a CLT uniform on the roster by other players in this room. I look at this as an opportunity for young guys to step in and fill the void, though you do have Justin Jeffery and Tre Goode as guys that have played a decent amount (relatively speaking) as well. The incoming Freshman class contains 2 WR prospects that could push for snaps: Elijah Spencer & Jairus Mack.