Let’s dive right into this one. The story of Day 10 was 49ers QB Trey Lance and his stat line that saw him post a 33% completion percentage during the team period of practice. I’m here to tell you why those numbers are deceiving and why I think Sunday’s practice was far more encouraging than concerning.
I charted Lance at 4-12 on the day, and I am going to go rep by rep and share what I had jotted down in my notes in the immediate aftermath of watching these reps live.
A look at Lance’s day
- Lance’s first throw of the day came on an in-breaking dig route over the middle to Deebo Samuel, with Talanoa Hufanga as the nearest defender in coverage. This throw was made with good anticipation and enough zip to put it right on Samuel. Something to keep an eye on is the timing between Lance and Samuel and how that ramps up in the coming weeks leading up to the season opener in Chicago.
The duo seems to be up to speed on any route that flattens or crosses the middle in the short to intermediate. However, the timing is still clearly off on any route that pushes vertically outside the numbers. It is something that only gets fixed with more reps and more communication, which they will likely have an abundance of in the time between now and week one.
Lance’s numbers for the day: 1-1
2. The second passing attempt of the day was Lance’s best throw if you strictly isolate the passing attempt from the rest of the rep. Lance hit Aiyuk deep over the middle and layered a beautiful ball over the underneath defender, dropping it into Aiyuk for a substantial chunk of yardage.
There is clearly a special connection between Lance and Aiyuk, and the work they put together in the offseason is likely one of the primary reasons.
Lance’s numbers for the day: 2-2
3. Lance senses pressure, rolls out to his left, buys time, and floats a ball on a shallow cross to tight end Tyler Kroft, mirroring Lance while he worked right to left across the field. The throw was a little high but reasonably accurate enough for Kroft to make a play on the ball.
This was the first rep of the day where the actual passing attempt shouldn’t be the focus. I took away Lance’s ability to feel pressure in the pocket while still keeping his eyes downfield.
Instead of tucking and running immediately upon being pressured, Lance showed good footwork while climbing up and out of the pocket, looking to make a play with his arm before relying on his legs. Lance utilized his mobility to create enough time and space to get Kroft open and was rewarded with a positive gain because of the patience he displayed.
We all know Lance can run. He knows he can run. There will be a time and a place for that, but having the maturity to work from the pocket first and prioritize making a play with your arm rather than scrambling at the first sign of pressure is a testament to how Lance has progressed with his development.
Lance’s numbers for the day: 3-3
4. Lance’s fourth throw of the day was an incomplete pass to Samuel on a deep out to the left side of the field. There are good, and not-so-good takeaway’s from this rep. The good is that Lance missed high and to the sideline, meaning if Samuel didn’t get it, nobody was going to get it.
If you’re going to miss, you want to do so in a spot where a defender isn’t going to have a chance to make a play on the ball. The not-so-good is that it is the exact same kind of high overthrow to the boundary that Lance has been making since his days at North Dakota State.
Another pattern I’ve noticed is that Lance seems much more prone to having the timing be off on the deep out or any kind of vertical route outside the numbers when the throw is being made to the left side rather than the right side.
Again, this is something that will take more reps and more time to improve on. The looking better throwing to the right side could be a pure coincidence, but even if there is something to that, it will take a much larger sample size to make any definitive statement.
Lance’s numbers for the day: 3-4
5. The fifth throw of the day’s practice was an incompletion on an out route to the sideline intended for Ray-Ray McCloud. There was a good amount of separation between McCloud and the defensive back trailing in coverage, but the ball thrown by Lance was just slightly too far in front of McCloud for him to haul in this ball.
McCloud was able to get his fingertips on it, but that was due to his arms being fully extended while lunging forward vertically at the same time. Not an egregious miss by any means, but I definitely had that one down as being more on Lance than McCloud in my notes.
Just seemed like a routine miss where the timing was off again. Something that will only be improved on with... that’s right, you guessed it. More reps. It’s a process, and these throws require a certain amount of time and work together before a quarterback, and wide receiver click at a level where it just becomes routine.
Lance’s numbers for the day: 3-5
6. The sixth throw of the day was an incompletion on an out route to a similar spot on the field as the previous attempt to McCloud. This time the intended target was Brandon Aiyuk, who had one of the very few drops that I have seen from the wideout through ten training camp practices.
Lance’s ball placement and timing were good on this play, but those are things that won’t get reflected in the box score because the play ultimately goes down as an incompletion.
Not much to this one in my notes, just a ball Aiyuk normally brings in nine times out of ten but didn’t on this play. For a guy having as strong of a camp as Aiyuk has been, drops like this are quickly forgotten and outweighed by all the other reps he is winning with more consistency.
Lance’s numbers for the day: 3-6
7. The seventh throw of the day was a deep ball down the left sideline to tight end Troy Fumagalli. I had it in my notes as another ball to the deep part of the field that sailed a bit, and again I’m not sure that it’s a coincidence that it happened again on the left side.
I do think there is something to monitor with these deep balls on the left side of the field, but also keep in mind that completing these throws 20 + yards downfield to receivers you don’t have much experience with is no easy task.
And for whatever it’s worth if you’re going to miss, miss high and miss deep. Don’t let too much air get under the ball and allow the defense to make a play.
After starting out 3-3, Lance quickly found himself at 3-7 on the day, which likely raised the level of concern for anyone who doesn’t have the luxury to see all of these reps and the nuance that comes with them.
The fluctuating completion percentage is something that should be expected. I don’t think that Lance has an issue with knowing where to put the ball or having the ability to make the required throws when it comes to ball placement.
I think it just boils down to consistency at this point, which is the biggest area he needs to improve, in my opinion. The only way to get better in that regard is by making those mistakes and learning from them. This will all be a part of the process and the growing pains that come with being a 22-year-old first-time starting quarterback in the NFL.
There was a tweet of mine from back in February where I touched on this a bit.
A lot of people say he has “accuracy” issues and I don’t think that’s a fair assessment— Jordan Elliott (@JLeeElliott) February 5, 2022
When he is on, his ball placement is fantastic
It’s more of a consistency issue than an accuracy issue
Lance’s numbers on the day after this throw: 3-7
8. The eighth throw of the day concluded the first session of the team period, and was an incompletion down the right sideline intended for running back Trey Sermon. Ideally I don’t think Lance should have thrown this ball because Sermon was blanketed by linebacker Segun Olubi.
It wasn’t a colossal mistake by any stretch of the imagination, but absolutely is something to build on going forward. Olubi also deserves his credit for what was an incredible rep in pass coverage, seriously he had Sermon strapped up on this play.
Ultimately not a throw you want to make, but at least the miss was beyond the reach of the defender’s ability to make a play on the ball. One thing Lance is consistent with, is having good misses. When he does miss it tends to be in spots where the nearest defender doesn’t have the chance to create a turnover.
Lance’s numbers on the day : 3-8
The remainder of Lance’s reps on the day came during move the ball drills, which are going to be a little bit more pressure-filled given the closer resemblance to actual game action.
9. Lance’s first rep of the situational period was his best one of the day, and it came on 1st & 10 from the 49ers offense’s own 2-yard line. Lance dropped back off a play fake, quickly saw that his first and second read was not there, and decided to check down to Kroft in the flat for a gain of four yards.
Now look, I get that most 49ers fans are excited to hear about deep bombs down the field or Lance rifling a throw into a tight window over the middle of the field. But reps like these are very telling about where a player is at with their processing and ability to read a defense and make quick decisions based on what they see.
When evaluating Lance, it is so easy to get caught up in the big arm, the mobility, the ability to extend plays and create off script, etc. Lance absolutely has tremendous physical traits, but his greatest strength is his intelligence and ability to know where to go with the football.
Being able to make a snap decision and take what the defense gives you is a sign of intellectual maturity and far more indicative of where a player is at with their development than, say, a completed deep ball downfield or a splash play on a designed run.
In this situational drill, instead of holding the ball and trying to force something downfield, Lance took what was available and gave his offense a better chance to sustain success on this drive by putting them in a 2nd & 6 rather than 2nd & long.
This is where I want to emphasize again that the throws themselves or the end result of the plays aren’t the things that are the most important for Lance during this stage of camp. What matter most are the little things. Things like what is his decision-making process looks like, how he is working through his progressions, how is the footwork and mechanics, did he put the ball in a good spot even if it goes down as an incompletion, etc.
Lance’s numbers on the day: 4-9
10. The tenth throw of the day was an incompletion that was nearly picked two plays later on a 3rd & 3 from inside the offense’s own 10-yard line. It appeared that the play design intended to create a natural pick on Charvarius Ward to free up Brandon Aiyuk on a quick slant over the middle.
The problem with this rep had nothing to do with Lance, in my opinion. The real story of this rep was what Javon Kinlaw did to the interior offensive line. Kinlaw exploded off the line right at the snap, fired into the A-gap, and was basically in Lance’s lap before the route could develop, or Lance could even get into the top of his drop.
This forced an errant pass that was a bit ahead of where the slant was developing, and Ward was able to get his hands on it and nearly bring it in. Again, my initial takeaway from this play wasn’t that I was concerned with Lance. It was that I was encouraged by the dominant pass-rushing rep I saw from Kinlaw.
These guys on defense get paid to make plays too, and Kinlaw’s ability to wreck this play from the jump is not an indictment on Lance. Alas, it still goes down as an incompletion and only adds fuel to the fire for anyone using completion percentage numbers without context.
Lance’s numbers on the day: 4-10
11. The 11th throw of the day was an incompletion downfield between the numbers to Aiyuk. This is where subjectivity comes in because there is undoubtedly a difference in opinion about the ball placement on this throw and the effect that had on this rep.
In my notes, I liked where he put the ball. The problem wasn’t that Lance didn’t have a good rep. It was that safety Jimmie Ward simply had a better one. Ward came screaming across the field and timed up his hit on Aiyuk perfectly, getting there just after the ball arrived to knock it free and force an incompletion.
Similar to the rep before this, I didn’t have this as an egregious miss for Lance or the 49ers offense. I had it as a win for the 49ers' defense and got used to seeing that because they are an immensely talented unit top to bottom.
Lance’s numbers on the day: 4-11
12. Lance’s last throw of the day was by far his worst; an interception was thrown into the hands of Fred Warner on a rep where it looked like Lance didn’t ever see Warner sitting underneath the crossing route Lance attempted to throw to the left side of the field.
There have been a few of these interceptions from Lance during camp, where it appears he simply doesn’t see the underneath defender and rifles a ball right into their chest. It could be something as simple as miscommunication on the route between Lance and his intended target, but regardless those are the kind of mistakes that just cannot happen.
I do wonder if the fact that this was Lance’s last throw of the day altered the perception of how his practice performance was.
Final numbers on the day for Lance: 4-12
To conclude, I can understand that seeing a headline of a starting quarterback with a 33% completion percentage and a pick during a practice is not the kind of news people hope to hear.
But please understand that there is so much more at play than raw statistics, and the footwork, poise, decision making, and so many other intangibles Lance displayed yesterday were much more valuable in the grand scheme of things than a couple of overthrown balls.
Yes, there were some throws that should have been made, and yes, there is still work to be done. But it should be understood that Lance is a work in progress and far from a finished product, and he should be graded on his performance accordingly.
Meaning completion percentage numbers from training camp aren’t nearly as important as the incremental progress being made day to day. It’s evident things are moving in the right direction, and there is tangible progress being made.
It is clear as day how much better Lance has looked after the tenth practice compared to what I saw to start camp. I will do my best to continue providing the best context and nuance over the last two practices because raw statistics will never paint the full picture or tell the entire story.