Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla
Another day, another practice where Trey Lance draws countless “oohs” and “aahs”. And it came in the first practice with pads on.
I’m not a huge fan of tracking completions versus incompletions with quarterbacks in training camp because defensive linemen aren’t allowed to get anywhere near them, and they know this, so they often don’t display the same level of urgency they would in a real game situation. There are plenty of throws which wouldn’t get off because they’d be sacks in a real game, or completions which happen after a penalty.
That said, on a day like today, it’s worth mentioning that Lance had just one incompletion on 14 attempts, and that was on a deep ball for Richie James Jr., who looked like he took longer to separate or didn’t have the same straight-line speed that Lance expected him to have. In any case, it was an overthrown deep ball which no one could make a play on, and came on the last play of practice.
The defining stretch of Tuesday’s first padded practice was when Garoppolo had one rep cut from his usual set and Lance took it. Every quarterback over the last few practices has been running three reps apiece before the tail end of practice, when situationals are wrinkled into 11-on-11s.
But instead of Garoppolo’s third rep, Lance took one, pulling a zone read run and running up the middle for a decent gain. Kyle Shanahan said — hilariously given what happened today — on Monday that as far as working Lance in with the first team offense, “I haven’t planned that at all.”
Monday being, you know, yesterday.
It’s one rep, but it was an intentional rep. Shanahan explained it after practice as something he wanted all the offensive linemen to get accustomed to.
“We have a seven-day install. Day six, a certain run went in that we wanted all the lines to get blocking with,” Shanahan said. “So we made sure all the o-line got it. It’s not a play that you’re doing with all the quarterbacks.”
In other words, there are specific plays in the playbook designed for Trey Lance. That is not a revelation by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s clear that even if Garoppolo does retain the starting job, it will not be in totality.
Comparing Lance to the New Orleans Saints’ Taysom Hill will cause people to cringe, and rightfully so, given the nonsensical way the Saints have paid Hill and the narrative around him. Oh, he also can’t throw the ball very well, or at all, which is not a concern with Lance.
But there is a realm in which the 49ers don’t start Lance immediately and they could employ a similar method of throwing Lance in the game on designed zone-read packages, or give him run-pass options. I’d argue he’s already capable of much more than that and the 49ers are well aware of that, but if they feel Garoppolo is playing well and perhaps Lance doesn’t have a full or completely comfortable grasp of the playbook, that’s an avenue in which they could use his absurd athleticism and instinct in reading defenders.
Lance ran the ball a few times on Tuesday, just as he’s done in prior practices, but he threw it more than in the last couple. It was during that stretch when he took one of Garoppolo’s reps — leaving Garoppolo with two in that period and himself with four — when he threw the best pass of the day.
That might be an understatement. It’s probably the best ball of training camp, and one which Garoppolo is not capable of throwing.
Lance eased his way out of the pocket, buying him space and time to the left before spotting a mismatch between a streaking Trent Sherfield against linebacker Jonas Griffith (who has had a pretty impressive camp to this point). It looked like Sherfield ran a deep crosser from the right side of the offense to the left which was designed to cut up field at a certain point; Lance identified it and proceeded to launch an inch-perfect, roughly 50-yard pass which hit Sherfield in stride.
Just about everyone in attendance reacted like this:
This was before Jimmy Garoppolo had a pretty bad throw on a wheel route to Raheem Mostert which went a few yards to his right and a short throw, low over the middle. He had a solid day for the most part, completing his final to throws of the day to George Kittle and Brandon Aiyuk. He had a nice attempt on a deep ball to Aiyuk a few plays prior, but Jason Verrett gave him absolutely no space to make a play on the ball; it was perhaps the best coverage play of camp thus far, with Verrett going stride for stride with Aiyuk and closing down at the catch point without drawing a flag.
Lance followed Garoppolo’s closer with a fumbled exchange with Wayne Gallman; it’s at least the second time Lance has had a fumbled exchange, with one happening on a Trey Sermon handoff earlier in camp. After that, though, he rolled out and connected with Charlie Woerner along the left sideline with a nice, outstretched grab. Woerner made another nice catch in traffic on a Lance throw and had an impressive seal block in space to allow an outside zone play to go for first-down yardage. It was his best day of camp by far.
After that Woerner completion, Lance hit Sherfield on a dart over the middle, then rolled out and hit Sherfield — who slid as he caught the accurate, but pressured throw — again before connecting with River Cracraft as his final completion. The lone incompletion to James closed out practice.
It’s just tough — dare I say near impossible — to go from watching Garoppolo to watching Lance and thinking that, “Oh yeah, Garoppolo’s got this job locked down.” It feels like it’s Lance’s job sooner rather than later, even if Garoppolo remains the starter on opening day.
The most notable part of practice outside of Lance looking stellar was a moment in 1-on-1’s when Anthony Zettel surprised Trent Williams — and everyone in attendance — with a crafty spin move, leading to a chorus of “OHHHHHH”-s on either side of the line. Williams went over to dap up Zettel and chat with him for a bit, before promptly stonewalling him and then nearly pancaking Arden Key. You won’t beat Williams more than once.
Also of note was the involvement of both Dee Ford and Jalen Hurd in team drills. Ford, as Kyle Shanahan mentioned, was flying off the edge, and looked quite a bit like his old self. Granted, much of that was against the second team; he put a whooping on Isaiah Williams, speeding around the edge for a pressure, but did get absolutely stuffed by Mike McGlinchey on one blitz. The 49ers got interesting with their use of Ford with Arden Key and Arik Armstead both rushing from the outside simultaneously.
Hurd wasn’t targeted in team drills, but he did get through the practice, which is a substantial step.
We’ll have to watch more as practice continues to see how the running backs progress, but there was at least one aesthetically pleasing stiff arm and breakaway run from Trey Sermon to the outside. There’s just something about a back shrugging off a defender, then easing around an outside block and finding the edge that’s beautiful to watch.
All the running backs have had moments thus far. Raheem Mostert is still the clear number one and looks much improved as a receiver, but no longer are the days of groaning at slow-developing, arduous runs by backs like Tevin Coleman and Jerick McKinnon, coming off injuries looking like shells of their former selves. It’s a fast, mostly young running back group, and is consistently entertaining to watch.
Deebo Samuel wasn’t involved in practice with soreness and groin tightness, nor was Dontae Johnson, who’s day-to-day with a foot issue. Tim Harris Jr. was also out, and will be for a few weeks with a groin issue. Azeez Al-Shaair was also out but walking around after a scary knee injury yesterday; Shanahan said he expects him to be out for a few weeks with what he believes is a knee sprain.Another day, another practice where Trey Lance draws countless “oohs” and “aahs”. And it came in the first practice with pads on.