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The San Francisco 49ers’ brass might not want to admit it. But it’s easy to read between the lines. Rookie quarterback Trey Lance is involved in a training camp competition for the starting job with incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo.
Earlier this week, Lance received reps behind the 49ers’ first-team offensive line and with their starting skill-position players. That came one day after head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated that he did not envision a scenario in which Lance would get first-team reps.
So the story goes in Santa Clara. What the brass says publicly has been completely rooted in a lack of reality. Whether it’s to prop up Garoppolo’s seemingly invisible trade market or to keep Lance humble after making him the No. 3 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch seem to be playing a game. It’s a cat-and-mouse game, one that can easily be read through.
By all accounts, Trey Lance has performed better than Garoppolo during training camp. Longtime 49ers beat writers, most of whom hold off on providing opinions, are swooning over the talented young quarterback.
At what point are we going to start talking about Lance starting over Garoppolo when the San Francisco 49ers’ regular season schedule begins Week 1 against the Detroit Lions? Will it be after he takes to the field in their preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs? Perhaps, it will be before.
Either way, there’s multiple reasons why Lance should get the nod over Garoppolo. Here’s a look at three of them.
Trey Lance just might be ready
It really isn’t much more difficult than that. The narrative following April’s NFL Draft was that Lance is a project. He played at North Dakota State against inferior competition. The small-school product also didn’t play this past fall and winter due to college football’s COVID-19 situation. “He needs a couple years,” some concluded.
Sure it might be an overreaction based on a few padded practices. But by all accounts in Santa Clara, Lance has more than proven himself capable of both starting from Day 1 and acting the part of a leader on offense.
“This month is about whether Lance develops quickly enough to start Week 1 and nothing else,” NFL Media insider Gregg Rosenthal noted recently. “All reports indicate he’s on schedule or ahead of it.”
This opinion has been repeated over and over again from objective individuals at hand during 49ers training camp. Trey Lance has the it factor. He’s ready to shoulder the load.
Despite the 49ers’ brass wanting to pump the brakes on Lancemania (that’s a thing), it’s hard to ignore what he’s done on the practice field with San Francisco this summer.
The rookie quarterback narrative and Trey Lance
We already knew that Lance has all the physical tools to be considered an elite young quarterback prospect. San Francisco would not have exhausted two future first-round picks and change to move up to the No. 3 pick for the small-school product. What we’re seeing from Lance this summer is about more than physical ability. He has the mentality to start from Day 1. He has an understanding of the playbook and the smarts to be somewhat of a veteran-like performer out there.
However, there’s this narrative out there suggesting that a rookie quarterback should not be given the keys to the kingdom for a championship-contending team. At the very least, said narrative is rooted in history. No rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era has led his team to a championship.
That’s all fine and dandy. But there’s something missing from said narrative. Most teams selecting at the top of the draft are not title contenders. They are bottom feeders. Following an injury-plagued 2020 season, San Francisco figured it made sense to buck that trend. The 2019 NFC champions traded a ton of draft capital to move up to the top three for a signal caller. When was the last time a team that was just 15 months removed from a Super Bowl appearance picked in the top three? You can do the research.
Trey Lance in Kyle Shanahan’s system
There’s a reason why Shanahan zeroed in on Lance early in the pre-draft process. Having gone up against the likes of Patrick Mahomes, Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen in recent seasons, the idea of having a dual-threat quarterback run his complex offense had to be seen as appealing to the head coach.
As we’ll see moving forward in the preseason, Lance has that dual-threat ability. He can also make every single throw on the football field with ease. Despite Garoppolo leading the 49ers to the Super Bowl less than two years ago, his limitations have been obvious.
If Shanahan is able to unlock Lance’s natural ability and athleticism, it would take San Francisco’s offense to the next level. Add in the presences of skill-position players such as Raheem Mostert, George Kittle, Brandon Aiyuk and Deebo Samuel, and this unit could end up being nearly unstoppable.
None of this is to paint too much of a rosy picture. If he gets the nod Week 1, Trey Lance will have his rookie struggles. He’ll make those first-year mistakes. It will cost the 49ers a game or two. Heck, San Francisco might have to wait until 2022 to be seen as legitimate Super Bowl contenders.
With all of that said, there’s absolutely no reason to prolong the inevitable. Lance looks the part. He’s the 49ers’ quarterback of the future. Why delay what everyone sees coming at the cost of failing to provide Lance the reps he needs in an offense that’s tailored to his skill-set?