SANTA CLARA (Calif.) — Trey Lance, the San Francisco 49ers’ scout-team quarterback, has had more roles than Samuel L. Jackson in a relatively short time.
Lance can quickly rattle off the names of the quarterbacks that he’s imitated in practice this year. There are mobile signal-callers such as Justin Fields, stationary ones like Kirk Cousins, and others in between akin to Aaron Rodgers.
Lance was Jimmy Garoppolo’s backup, so he hasn’t had much time to grow as a player. Lance’s lessons are behind the scenes.
Lance was able to remember Fred Warner’s many times as a linebacker. Lance was a cautious player at first. Lance was scared to make mistakes or throw interceptions and would run away if he didn’t see something he liked during practice.
Warner didn’t like that and pulled Lance aside, telling him that the Scout Team offered a chance to help the defense prepare to face the opponent. Also, it would allow Lance to grow. Warner advised Lance to take risks in order to achieve that.
Warner explained that he felt that Warner’s confidence grew after the conversation. He started making crazy plays, where he just flies the ball downfield and makes great plays. It’s all about confidence. Every year you grow, especially when you’re a rookie. You do more and push the limits every day. That’s what I have seen from him.”
It would be like other grand declarations about Lance’s career. Premature. Those conversations with Warner were also crucial in charting the course that Lance’s rookie year has taken.
The Niners wanted Garoppolo to be the starting pitcher for this season. However, Garoppolo’s injury cloud always loomed large, so Lance had to remain available.
All of this leads us to the Niners’ most recent quarterback crossroads.
Garoppolo has a torn ligament right thumb and the job descriptions for neat and tidy are no more. Lance will have to wait until he is told otherwise. He could now be ready to play in a do-or-die Week18 game at 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) versus a Los Angeles Rams squad Garoppolo has beaten five times in succession.
Kyle Shanahan, the Niners’ coach, has said Garoppolo would start if he is capable of throwing and protecting the ball with no problem. San Francisco can take some comfort from Lance’s performance last week against the Houston Texans, but it’s not a sure thing.
Lance was able to finish strong after a few early miscues. He completed 16 of 23 passes for 249 yard with two touchdowns.
Coach Kyle Shanahan stated that Trey did “some really good things.” “He was put in a really difficult situation, both in terms of where the team was at and how large the game was. It was basically a playoff game. He was able to handle the pressure and he did a great job.
While it was not the type of performance that Lance would be able to put on his permanent roster, it left many curious about what he could do when he takes the big stage. The helmet of the Niners’ handpicked franchise quarterback is heavy.
The Niners traded up to No. There has been much chatter about Lance’s position since April’s draft when the Niners traded up for No. Could Garoppolo be traded Garoppolo would be replaced by Lance. The 2017 Chiefs model would be followed by the Niners with Garoppolo as Alex Smith and Lance as Patrick Mahomes.
Although Shanahan avoided making any big statements about the situation, it became clearer as the season progressed that Shanahan preferred the Chiefs’ approach. This has been interrupted twice by Garoppolo’s injuries and a pair Lance-related health issues.
Lance broke his right index finger bone during training camp. This left him with inflammation and forced him to work to fix the finger. Lance then injured his left knee in October’s first game against Arizona. This setback cost him several weeks.
Lance said that now that he’s done all of that, it feels like he’s as healthy as ever. Shanahan stated that Lance even managed to shorten his throwing speed, which was quite slow in preseason.
The Niners looked very different in Week 17, with Lance as their center. Pro Football Focus reports that Lance’s average depth at target against Houston was 12 feet. This is the most impressive number of 49ers quarterbacks since Garoppolo’s second starting (also against Houston) in 2017.
Lance was not afraid to have fun, throwing deep throws and out of the numbers frequently. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, 205 of Lance’s passing yards were on throws traveling more than 10 yards, which is the most by a San Francisco QB in the past three seasons.
Mike McDaniel is the offensive coordinator and credits Lance’s deliberate practice habits for digging into the specifics of each coaching point, and then working out the details.
McDaniel stated, “It’s just really daily-in, daily-out saying, ‘OK, we want to play with base better, improve that.’” He diligently follows through and does it every chance he gets. Then it’s just a matter of time. With every player, with every single player. It doesn’t really matter who you are, Trent Williams, rookie or not, you will have lapses. As coaches, our job is to be alert to it and be there to help young players improve.
Shanahan stated that Lance had been enjoying his best practice sessions in four weeks prior to last week’s game against the Texans. This is no accident. Warner had some straight talk before he started practicing.
Lance explained, “It’s a way of making myself better and giving those guys the looks.” Even though it’s not something I want to do, it’s important for the guys and it’s obvious that I can get something out it.
Lance will have an opportunity to make the future a reality if he starts Sunday again.