Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla
There’s definitely no competition. Nothing to see here, folks. Just move along. Jimmy Garoppolo is the 49ers’ starter forever. Trey Lance is just a nice backup.
Kyle Shanahan created a joke on Tuesday, in a joint press conference with general manager John Lynch, when he said there’s “no open competition” among the 49ers veteran and rookie quarterbacks.
“There’s no open competition right now in terms of they’re getting equal reps with the same group,” Shanahan said. “Jimmy’s coming in as the one and Trey’s coming in as the two.”
Now, that might be true in some sense. As in, the 49ers have been running Garoppolo with the first team offense and Lance with the second team. There is surely a sea of information which Lance, still just 21 years old, has yet to process, and which is second nature for Garoppolo.
But after watching Lance’s college tape and the monumental amount of draft capital the 49ers invested to get him, you always knew there’d be a moment like there was on Saturday. Lance was unquestionably the better quarterback, and that’s without factoring in the handful of runs (some designed, some as a reaction to open space and pressure) he ripped off for chunk yardage.
What’s immediately apparent is that when the time comes to name Lance the starter, you won’t have a soul in the building who won’t understand. He’s got it.
Saturday featured the absolute worst of Garoppolo and the best (at least, thus far, because he’s clearly just scratching the surface) of Lance. That’s not to say Garoppolo was just horrendous the entire time. He wasn’t.
He connected with Raheem Mostert nicely along the right sideline against Azeez Al-Shaair. That was a theme on Saturday without Dre Greenlaw practicing (foot blister), as Al-Shaair — who’s been impressive so far and broke up a Garoppolo pass on a blitz — had his lunch money taken by Mostert as a receiver on three separate occasions.
Garoppolo also had a dime to Brandon Aiyuk — who was only stopped on one occasion on a diving breakup by Jason Verrett, on a ball Garoppolo overthrew — over the middle and drew Arik Armstead offsides once with a hard count.
But it was clearly Garoppolo’s worst practice thus far. He threw two egregious interceptions. One came against Fred Warner over the middle, which Warner snatched with relative ease, returning it for a carefree pick six.
His other interception was arguably worse. He tried to target a streaking Deebo Samuel on a route which looked an awful lot like that infamous, deciding seam Emmanuel Sanders ran in the Super Bowl. Instead, inexplicably, Garoppolo double-clutched, staring down Samuel the entire time, then reloaded and threw a fluttery deep ball which was a clear interception from the moment it left his hand. It just barely reached the goal line, and Samuel couldn’t make a play on the ball; Jason Verrett caught it in the exact same way he would have fielded a punt and returned it for substantial yardage.
It was slightly similar to Lance’s throw on Friday, but Lance’s throw came out wobbly, but with pace and allowed Samuel to make a play on it. It should have been intercepted, but required a good play on the ball, whereas Garoppolo’s was an arm punt.
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) July 31, 2021
To his credit, Garoppolo followed up that horrible interception with a nice completion over the middle to Trent Sherfield and that aforementioned throw to Mostert down the right sideline.
Meanwhile, Lance was absolutely electric. He ran at least three or four designed read-option runs. Every single one of those runs was effective, and he seems to have the ability to read the “surfing” defender and decide whether to keep the ball or not without hesitation, as is required on those plays.
After one of those chunk runs, Lance had an ear-to-ear grin on his face with defenders. Offensive tackle Mike McGlinchey said players had a real sense of anticipation, wondering when Lance would use his legs for the first time. He said there were, “three or four read zones today, which is three or four more read zones than we’ve run in my four years here.”
Funny as that statement is, it’s the realization of the fact that the 49ers finally have a modern, dual-threat quarterback. Defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans expressed a level of gratitude on Saturday at the fact that they no longer need to use receivers or running backs in wildcat setups to try and mock dual-threat quarterbacks. That’s, uh, fairly useful in a division which features Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray.
But it was Lance’s arm which was arguably more impressive. The ball comes out of his hand far differently than it does Garoppolo’s. Every throw that’s not a deep shot comes out like a rope; he’s got easy power.
It’s just as enticing as his footwork; the fluidity and lack of waste in his movement from the time it takes to deal with the snap and plant his feet is a thing of beauty. When there’s nothing there, he moves his feet quickly and reassess the situation rapidly, taking little time setting himself up to launch.
There were myriad impressive throws; to Aiyuk, Samuel and Mohamed Sanu, including a legitimate missile over the middle to Sanu, setting him up for YAC against rookie Deommodore Lenoir.
His worst moment was on an exchange with Trey Sermon; it’s unclear who screwed up, but someone fumbled, and Arden Key scooped up the fumble for what would probably have been a touchdown.
Lance also overthrew Richie James Jr. on a deep ball down the right sideline, but didn’t put himself in trouble with the throw. That was a theme; there weren’t many punishable plays. When Jordan Willis pressured him, he got away from him easily, buying himself time to work towards the sideline. When nothing was there for him, he threw it away.
And as corny or ethereal as it might be, there is a very real energy to watching Lance. As offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel said this week, “It’s a vibe.” Young as he may be, he’s got gravitas.
Now, it’s early. It’s too early. Pads don’t come on until Tuesday and we’re a few weeks away from preseason games and joint practices with the Los Angeles Chargers. We have yet to see Lance with the 1s (he’s been with first team receivers, but not faced first team defense, or had first team linemen).
But what we observed Saturday exists outside that context; it was just a glimpse, but Lance was decidedly the best quarterback on the field. The more that happens, the notion of no competition will evaporate.
We have no idea how long it will take until it becomes Lance’s job in earnest, but it’s pretty clear he’s got the tools to make that happen sooner rather than later.
Other notes from practice:
- George Kittle was out for a scheduled maintenance day, with Jordan Matthews making his debut as a tight end. He had quite a few drops in 1-on-1s.
- Ross Dwelley made two fantastic catches. One came over the middle on a great throw from Garoppolo over the closest defender and between the trailing defensive back. The second was unbelievable. Ken Webster tipped the pass from Josh Rosen intended for Sanu, but barely affected the flight of the ball, and Dwelley, somehow, thanks in part to perfect timing, was able to make the catch a few yards behind the intended target.
- Mostert has looked like a much-improved receiver, and, as mentioned, gave Al-Shaair a tough time on Saturday.
- Jordan Willis, who’s suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, had at least a couple sacks on Saturday, though they were in large part due to Garoppolo taking too long to deliver the ball.
- Jalen Hurd was not present at practice for the second-straight day. He was said to be out for a scheduled maintenance day on Friday, along with Nick Bosa, who returned to practice on Saturday.