The 49ers sure know how to grab ahold of the national spotlight. On Tuesday, we spent nearly half an hour on a conference call with Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch talking about one position.
For a team with a handful of superstars, the quarterback position remains the primary talking point. However, I’m in the mindset that the talent on the roster elevates whoever is under center. Shanahan has hinted at that during the offseason.
There’s always a “what if,” though. Could Trey Lance be that far behind the learning curve that the Niners struggle so much that they miss the playoffs? ESPN’s Dan Graziano wrote an article where he went through a “don’t be surprised” segment with each team and had San Francisco’s season ending without a postseason run:
Don’t be surprised if ... they miss the playoffs.
What I’m hearing: Trey Lance could be a lot of fun to watch, but he’s also very likely to struggle to overcome the lack of experience he brings to the job. Even some of the 49ers’ recent public comments indicate they think as much. They have question marks at four of the five starting offensive line spots, which isn’t getting nearly enough attention amid the preseason hype. The defense looks championship-caliber, which could save them, but there are enough questions at key spots on offense to make you wonder if we’re assuming too much when we think they’ll just stay good.
Kyle Shanahan’s record as 49ers head coach is 39-42 (43-44 counting playoffs), and the team has failed to reach seven wins in three of his five seasons. So it wouldn’t be the first time people overrated the 49ers in the preseason. I think Lance ends up being good, but I think this season could be quite rocky.
For the Jaguars, it was if they make the playoffs.
It’s fair to question the offensive line, especially given how they performed during the preseason. In addition, Mike McGlinchey’s health is up in the air, which doesn’t help. Still, I think there’s too much being put on Lance’s inexperience.
Last year, the 49ers had training wheels on the offense for Garoppolo down the stretch. That’s been the case for a few years now. Jimmy is at his best in two-minute drills when the offense has to hurry up. Outside of that, you have to hold your breath when he drops back to pass.
Do the 49ers win when he’s under center? They do. If I were to ask you what was Jimmy’s best game last year, which came would you point to? Based on some of the decision-making, you’d think Garoppolo was inexperienced.
All that’s to say, Shanahan knows how to scheme around a quarterback. If he doesn’t believe Lance can run his offense, he’ll dumb it down. We’ll see Kyle move the pocket, use bootlegs to cut the field in half and make his reads easier, rely on Lance’s legs, and get the ball into his playmakers’ hands so they can do the work.
That wouldn’t be much different than what we’ve seen in recent years, save the quarterback running game. The Niners have had success offensively with multiple backup offensive linemen in the game. If anything, the preseason showed Lance is capable of running out of sacks and keeping the offense on schedule.
Whether it’s subpar QB play, turnovers, or inconsistent play in general, we have evidence of this team overcoming all of that and still winning. Yet, now we’re worried about it?
Using Shanahan’s record as a talking point omits all context. First, look at what he did with Nick Mullens. Now, look at what everyone else has done with Mullens. And that’s not to say this season won’t be rocky. Lance will struggle, but acting like he’ll be the only one, and if he does, it’ll cost the team, is naive.
The 49ers have a top-5 roster, supporting cast around the quarterback, play-callers on both sides, and defense. A lot has to go wrong for them not to play into the middle of January.