An ongoing theme the last few years at Charlotte is to use several running backs. The same is true in 2021, as the 49ers stick to a consistent three. Just past the season's midway point, the three backs have shared the load, and it has proven to be a successful method thus far.
A team's success is driven by how well players can work together, and it is no question after speaking with them that these three can.
"It's a gold connection," said running back Calvin Camp. "I seriously couldn't ask for anything better."
Calvin Camp: Camp has 74 rushing attempts on the season, rushing for 451 yards and three touchdowns. He averages over five yards per carry and is quick and elusive in open space. He has multiple 40 yard or longer runs, one coming against Duke and another against Middle Tennessee. Camp is the veteran back on the team, and his leadership in that position room has made it better as a whole.
Camp has had explosive plays, but one he commented on was his long touchdown against Middle Tennessee.
"I really just have to thank the blocking of Cam Dollar, Grant DuBose and my O-line. I credit them for everything because if they didn't work everything out up front, then I wouldn't have had that one-on-one opportunity," Camp says.
Shadrick Byrd: As an Iowa transfer, Byrd has a little bit of power five football experience.
"Up there, football is life," Byrd said. "You really have to know how to handle your business day after day."
Byrd has 81 attempts on the ground this year for 317 yards and one rushing touchdown against Gardner-Webb. He also has a game-winning touchdown against Duke. Although this came in the air, it is still one of his best touchdowns of the season.
"I knew from the way we were lined up, and also how they (Duke) were lined up, I was going to get the ball," Byrd said. "After I caught it, I hit them with a little (juke), and after that, we had the first down, but after that, might as well go score. It was big for me."
As of late, Byrd has made a serious impact in the kickoff return game. On the season, he has 14 return attempts for 371 yards. That is 26.5 yards a return which is more than the 25 given for a touchback.
ChaVon McEachern: Only a redshirt freshman, McEachern has played a big role in the success of the 49er running back unit. He might not get the number of touches as Byrd and Camp. However, he is a hard worker that the other two backs can rely on to make a big play at any time. McEachern has 38 carries for 168 yards on the season and one touchdown to go along with it.
One of the most questionable "no-calls" of the season for the 49er faithful came on a play where McEachern got hit hard towards the sideline against Illinois. Many thought Illinois should have been flagged for targeting, but this was not McEachern's take on the play.
"I don't think it was a dirty play," McEachern said. "I think it was a very good play. We had a miss communication back with the quarterback, and number 25 (Kerby Joseph) just made a good play. I feel like if he wasn't there, it was a touchdown."
Each of these guys takes something away from each other's game to better themselves on the football field.
Camp feels like McEachern's glaring talent when he came into the program motivated him to get better. "He (McEachern) pushed me just by seeing his talent and how good he was and his expectations coming in," Camp said. "I had to be on my game and make sure I'm up to par. I knew I had to step my game up and be sharp."
McEachern feels like Camp's leadership and knowledge are admirable and have helped him in his time with the program so far. "Cal just always knew," McEachern said. "I had been through a lot when I first got here, and Cal was like a good big brother. It wasn't just on the field but off the field too. He helped me a lot."
McEachern is also very admirable of Byrd's game also. "Shad might be the same age as me, but he knows football," McEachern said. "He will watch the film with you and break it down. That is what I have taken from Shad is how well he knows the game."
When Byrd came in, he wanted to watch how the other running backs played to see how he would fit into the rotation. "Calvin is very patient back there in the backfield," Byrd said. "He lets the guys do the work upfront before he makes his decisions which you are supposed to do. It helps you out as a running back a lot. I try to take some of that and use it in my game."
Byrd says that McEachern is calm and collected in the backfield, and he takes that from his playstyle. "With Von, he is a smooth runner," Byrd said. "When my boy gets the ball in his hands he relaxes and he is just as smooth as anybody I have ever seen with the ball in his hands."
"Both of them (McEachern and Camp) and way better at making guys miss than I was when I first got here," Byrd added.
When Byrd came into the program, Camp wanted to make a serious effort not just on the field but also off the field.
"For me, with a new back coming in, I really wanted to get to know Shad outside of the ball," Camp said. "I wanted to understand his personality just as a person. I feel like me and him just click. It's like a one-two punch between him and me. We have been connected since he came here."
This is a group that watches a lot of football as well. Each of them looks to implement things from NFL greats to their own game to make themselves better.
For Camp, it was LaDainian Tomlinson and Reggie Bush. Both of these guys had outstanding professional careers and Bush had what can be argued to be the best collegiate career of all time.
"The main one was Reggie," Camp said. "He wore number five, and to have five back now is a good feeling. I want to pattern my game after those two. LaDainian because he is a smaller back; I'm a smaller back and he brings a lot of power and juice and speed with him. But those are the two I pattern my game after."
McEachern's answer was unique in that he selected two guys who had very different play styles for the two he patterns his game after.
"For me, it is Marshawn Lynch and Jamal Charles," McEachern said. "I like Marshawn Lynch because of the power of his running and Jamal because of his elusiveness. I like contact, but I feel like I am more of an elusive back."
Byrd's answer jumped off the page. It was not stereotypical whatsoever.
"Growing up in Alabama, I didn't really look too far outside of Bama," Byrd said. "I wasn't even a Bama football fan growing up, but if I am being real, I'd say Trent Richardson."
Richardson had a phenomenal career at Alabama and was a national champion as well but did not have the best NFL career, and this is why Byrd's answer was unique.
The connection that all three of these guys have with one another is special, and each of them is selfless because they won't ever speak about their own achievements but rather how they learn from one another.
"I couldn't ask for a better trio than what we have right now," Camp said. "I've never had a connection like this."
As the latter part of the 49ers' season gets underway, continue to expect coach Will Healy and the offensive unit to share snaps with all three of these guys and continue building their "gold connection."