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49ers OC Mike McDaniel details Trey Lance’s development and early-season expectations

The Niners offensive coordinator discussed working with a rookie quarterback on Thursday.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The 49ers' offensive coaching staff had an uphill battle this season when the team decided to select quarterback Trey Lance with the third overall pick while retaining longtime starter Jimmy Garoppolo. In his press conference on Thursday, Niners offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel touched on how the staff has balanced Lance and Garoppolo’s abilities building their playbook and went into even greater detail about Lance’s development.

One reporter asked if Lance “looked kind of frantic and sped up” in his first extended regular-season playing time after Garoppolo left their Week 4 loss with an injury. McDaniel agreed but was confident that the North Dakota State alum will improve with time:

“Reps are important in everything in life I’ve found. But he’s 21 years old and he’s a rookie and like every other position where we’re talking about improvement and growth and we’re never satisfied. You have to get into a rhythm and sometimes you come out, if you’re first possession in basketball, you get fouled and you go to the free throw line, you might hit the front rim. You work through it. That’s something that there were plays that he was very rhythmic and there was plays that the games fast. And that’s the biggest thing, that’s why those reps, I think his first preseason game, I said, I was excited for him to fail. And he kind of gave me crap about that because he was like, ‘dang.’ It’s that you know that there’s going to be things that you’re going to, you just don’t know what the things are until it’s real live bullets. You feel there’s a comfort area in practice, but in real life bullets, there’s things that happen. And then you’re like, ‘hey, we can identify those and work on those.’ And you can actually hear what I’m saying, because now you’ve taken that in and understood directly. ‘Oh yeah, I get what you mean about pass, rush and zoning defenders and how fast things happen.’ So I think during the game he got into a rhythm, the score dictated that you saw a lot of drop back action, which I think is compounding that too. You try not to drop back and throw with any quarterback, every single play. But sometimes the score dictates that. And then, there’s a lot of plays that he looked frantic because there were some pass rush issues too. There’s a lot of compounding variables. I’m sure the next time he plays that it’ll continue to look better and better and better and that’s the whole goal. And that’s what he’s focused on.”

During the final preseason game, the 49ers deployed a two-quarterback system and fueled speculation that Lance could see extended playing time despite Garoppolo remaining starter. While the Niners only used Lance sparingly, McDaniel acknowledged that giving more Lance more playing time was a strong consideration:

“You really just wanted to give it a try because you just don’t know. You approach everything week by week and you’re trying to win a game and you’re saying, ‘okay, what advantage does this give us, what doesn’t?’ And you’re trying not to predict the future because you don’t know the way things are going to play out with the defenses that you’re going against. So, you want to be prepared if you need to do that. And that doesn’t mean that that’s not going to happen ever again. But we wanted our players to feel that. And we’ve been bit plenty of times. I’m sure you guys are familiar, we have injuries once in a while. And so, we don’t want to sit here, like last year in Week 2 in 2020 or whatever year that was, in Week 2, we lost our starting quarterback. And you see directly how that affects the team. And so, you want the team to be prepared. Kyle is sitting there looking at it like, ‘Hey, we want to give Detroit something to think about. And maybe down the road, I want to do this.’ And you don’t want the first time that you ever do it to be, ‘oh yeah. It’s the game on the line, division game against the Arizona Cardinals. We’re 2-2, they’re 4-0. Yeah. Let’s just try this.’ So, nothing in that game and nothing that Trey’s done has deviated. It’s just been, ‘hey, what gives us the best chance to win.’ I prepare for everything to happen. And Kyle says, ‘okay, we’re going this way.’ And I say, ‘how fast’.”