The fourth practice in a row was equally taxing mentally as it was physically for the San Francisco 49ers. After losing a 1-on-1 rep, cornerback Jason Verrett said, “my legs are so heavy.”
I focused on the offense during Saturday’s practice, and there was plenty of action. Let’s start with the quarterbacks, as Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance both started and finished the day going in the opposite directions.
Stat lines are going to be different for everyone, depending on who you get your information from. During team drills, Jimmy Garoppolo went 5-11 with two interceptions and two pass breakups.
Knowing that I still feel like Jimmy G outperformed Lance. More on that later.
Garoppolo, through the first few periods, was sharp, decisive, and knew where to go with the football. He had the three best throws of the day. First, Jimmy found Brandon Aiyuk on a post corner route where he rolled out to his left and threw the ball across the field on a line to Aiyuk.
The most impressive throw was an intended target to Ross Dwelley — George Kittle sat out today due to a scheduled maintenance day — on a corner route. The defender had Dwelley covered, but Jimmy placed the pass on Dwelley’s back shoulder where only he could make a play.
Garoppolo also found Trent Sherfield on another corner route for a significant gain. After a day where Jimmy G only attempted two throws beyond five yards, he was much more aggressive today.
Consistency was an issue, and when Garoppolo made his second poor decision of the day, he was not the same player. His first pick-six to Fred Warner was one that we’re used to seeing: Jimmy didn’t see the underneath defender. It was a slant route, and Garoppolo didn’t recognize Warner “buzzing” to the flat.
Jimmy threw a second interception on a deep post route to Aiyuk, but he double-pumped, tried to hit Aiyuk late, and the ball was underthrown by about 10 yards, and Jason Verrett caught what seemed like a punt. So if Garoppolo throws the ball on time instead of hesitating, the pass is incomplete at worst.
Jimmy wasn’t as loose after this play and went into a shell. It was unfortunate after a strong start to practice.
As for the two pass breakups, one was simply a good play from Verrett as he beat Aiyuk to the spot on a curl route. However, the defense brought a blitz in the second one, and Trey Sermon slipped into the flat. It would have been an explosive play as nobody was around him. However, Jimmy failed to put enough trajectory on the pass and was fortunate Azeez Al-Shaair didn’t catch the ball as it went right through his hands.
I had Garoppolo down for 11 attempts. You’ll see 15 from other writers who were on hand, but the refs threw flags on a few of those, and the defense sacks Jimmy on the other plays. For example, he had a great pass on a wheel route to Raheem Mostert, who Al-Shaair had covered pretty well.
Warner had a free run-through up the middle, though, and the play would have never happened.
The narrative out of Saturday’s practice was that Lance had arrived, and he’s the guy. Not so fast. It took Lance a while to get going, and the majority of his good plays were thanks to Lance’s legs.
Lance’s first pass attempt was a deep ball to Richie James, who had a step on Ken Webster. Lance failed to keep the pass in bounds. James caught it but was out of bounds. You have to give your receiver a chance. That was a touchdown. Correct read. Inaccurate pass.
Lance had two other completions where the receivers bailed him out on throws that were behind him. On one, where Aiyuk somehow scored, it was a deep crossing route, and the throw slowed down Aiyuk so much that it worked against the defender.
Lance finished the day strong and went 7-12. I’m not ready to crown him because he had all day in the pocket to scan the field and hit receivers running wide open crossing the middle. These are throws he should complete.
I will say there’s a difference in his aggression compared to Garoppolo’s, as Lance consistently looks at the second level.
The biggest difference, as you might assume, is Lance’s athleticism. The offense ran zone read with him four times, and each time Lance could have run for 20+ yards. They’ll hit the defense with inside zone, and the threat of Lance to run leaves gaping holes for the running backs or green grass for Lance. It’s a catch-22 for the defense.
Lance also used his legs a couple of times when nobody was open to scramble, which also would have been chunk plays.
Most of Lance’s completions at the intermediate levels were RPO’s. The “glance” or “lookie” route is stealing. The package Kyle Shanahan can use with Lance is simple yet difficult to defend. It’s easy to see why Lance was drafted so high, but he still needs to iron out some wrinkles in his game.
With Saturday’s quarterback narrative, I guess that Lance ended on a high note, whereas Jimmy G didn’t. I wonder if there would be different opinions if it were vice versa.
It’s impossible to get a feel for the running backs without pads on. However, Wayne Gallman had the day's highlight as he shook Jonas Griffith in the hole that led to a big gain.
Outside of that, there wasn’t much to take away from this group. Trey Sermon continues to get the majority of reps with the first team, with Elijah Mitchell sprinkled in with the 2’s, along with Gallman, who also works with JaMycal Hasty the 3’s.
When I mentioned a “mentally taxing” practice, I had Aiyuk in mind. First, he started individual drills with a drop. Then, Aiyuk beat Verrett and another cornerback on deep routes during 1-on-1’s but dropped both passes as well. Finally, there was one play where Aiyuk fell on his route, which forced Lance to scramble.
The 49ers are stressing Aiyuk physically, too. The second-year wideout is working with the first, second, and third-team offenses. He’s the most talented wideout on the team, but some areas in his route running must be refined for Aiyuk to take his game to the next level.
Deebo Samuel had a good day. He was the beneficiary of a few of Lance’s RPO throws, and the Niners used Samuel on a couple of jet sweeps. There’s no way Deebo runs a high 4.4, as he did during the combine. He’s much faster than that.
Mohamed Sanu is WR3 until further notice. He’s exclusively working with the first-team and has the best catching technique by far out of any receivers. Mike McDaniel continually praised Sanu for not letting the ball get into his body. Sanu consistently keeps his arms extended, elbows in, and uses his hands.
Funny enough, Sanu had a drop on a glance route from Lance where nobody was around him. To Sanu’s credit, he does look much shiftier than he did last season.
There was a stretch during the team period where the receivers couldn’t get open. Neither Garoppolo nor Lance had anywhere to go with the ball. It’s also a bit obvious what the offense wants to do based on which receivers are in.
If River Crafcaft and Kevin White are the two receivers, guess what’s happening? On the contrary, if Travis Benjamin and Sherfield are in then, it’s probably a deep shot.
Speaking of Sherfield, he looks to be WR4. Again, he’ll battle with James, but Sherfield is a touch more consistent and equally as explosive. Plus, as is the case with James, he adds special teams' value.
Jalen Hurd was nowhere to be found on the practice field today after what was a maintenance day on Friday.
During team drills, Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, and Javon Kinlaw were all off to the side working. Mike McGlinchey joked those maintenance days for Bosa are the same for the offensive tackles as they gear up for No. 97 when he puts the pads on.
With the team's top pass rushers not on the field, the quarterbacks had all day to throw. Garoppolo and Lance had clean pockets to operate out of. Besides Warner’s sack, there were no hiccups in pass protection.
How much of that was due to the three players mentioned above not being on the field? It’s tough to tell. The play in the trenches and running backs are difficult to evaluate without pads on.
That changes on Tuesday.