Sports Illustrated’s Albert Breer was on Rich Eisen’s podcast discussing the 49ers, and the topic of the starting quarterback came up. Breer wouldn’t commit to Trey Lance as the Niners' starting quarterback in 2022, which led to Eisen interjecting and wondering why Lance isn’t ready.
Here’s what Breer had to say:
Here’s what I think it is. The more I’ve sniffed around this the last three or four months, they feel confident that they can put Lance out there and he can start. Can he run Kyle Shanahan’s offense? The full breadth of Shanahan’s offense? And how much, if he can’t run the whole thing, how much do they have to adjust?
And remember, Kyle went through that with Robert Griffin III all of those years ago in Washington when they basically imported the Baylor offense and he won the Rookie of the Year.
That’s why I think it’s important to gain clarity through the spring because you might be building an offense that looks a little bit different to work for Trey Lance so he can grow through it. And grow through the process that every young quarterback goes through to eventually get back o running that sort of offense.
Whenever the discussion about whether or not a 21-year-old is ready to take on Shanahan’s full offense, why do we ignore that it took a seasoned veteran like Jimmy Garoppolo multiple years, or even Matt Ryan, to “break out” in this system?
Lance would be an aberration if he were to take over as the starting quarterback and be an improvement out of the gate. However, understanding the timing and nuances of Shanahan’s offense is going to take years. Luckily, the 49ers don’t need Lance to be an All-Pro by September.
If Lance’s two starts in 2021 were any indication, Shanahan plans to throw the ball down the field and outside of the numbers more than he ever did with Jimmy. Assuming that Kyle wants to run his offense a specific way isn’t accurate. He’s adapted to whoever his quarterback has been during the last decade.
Now, compare that to Ryan in 2016:
As you can see from the charts above, there was only so much the passing offense could do with Garoppolo under center. It was impressive the offense operated as well, albeit not consistently, as they did without the threat of throwing deep. That’s not going to be an issue anymore.
Breer continued, picking up where the team felt about Lance’s progress last offseason:
I think the bumps they went through last year really informed them. I can tell you when they got back from summer break, they were blown away by the progress Trey Lance had made. In those first ten days of training camp, there were some thoughts that, ‘do we open this up and make it a real competition.’
He ended up leveling off and has some issues in the first time he played, I think that was in the end of September or the beginning of October. Then toward the end of the year, he started to ascend again. He played relatively well when he got a start toward the end of the year.
There were a lot of ups and downs last year. I think part of this is how much they’re going to have to adjust offensively and make it work for Trey Lance in playing in 2022. And then of course, what that’ll wind up meaning for Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, and George Kittle in the offense.
To begin training camp last year, it was evident that Lance brought traits to the table that would take the offense to another level. However, it was also apparent that he wasn’t going to be consistent. That’s not a surprise considering Lance didn’t play in 2020.
Breer forgot to mention that Lance suffered a finger injury during the preseason that effectively took him out of the running for any quarterback competition.
It would be news if there weren’t ups and downs for Lance as a rookie. He went from playing one game to practicing against the 49ers' starting defense every day in practice. There were flashes, but those didn’t come without a throw that was a one-hopper to the flat or Lance holding onto the ball longer than he was supposed to.
As for Breer, because Lance has a separate offense doesn’t mean it’s “worse.” He’s a different quarterback, who will be throwing a different set of routes, so he’ll need a different set of answers. However, that doesn’t mean the youngster is behind the developmental curve.
I’m interested in seeing who Lance leans on during obvious passing situations. Is Aiyuk his guy, or does he build a rapport with Kittle? Last year Garoppolo leaned on Deebo, and when he did, he was rarely wrong. There are no right or wrong answers, but it’s a fluid storyline to keep an eye on.