Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla
We’ve come to the end of a full week’s worth of 49ers practice and the consensus is clear; everyone is having a hell of a good time watching Trey Lance. There’s a transparent shift in energy when he takes takes the field.
After a few early days where there was a “Jimmy has been pretty good,” narrative, where Lance had yet to outshine him with consistency, it’s now clear as day that Lance operates on another level. He opens up levels of the playing field which are inaccessible to Garopoplo; vertically, horizontally, he stresses the defense by stretching his legs and using them to either run or buy time for a throw.
On every set of reps, you see heads swing and eyes pop. And it’s not just media. D.J. Jones confirmed after practice that it’s players, coaches, “everybody.”
“I think everybody’s eyes are locked on him,” Jones said. “He’s special.”
That he is. Lance went 7-of-8 with three passing touchdowns (two in red zone drills) and one rushing touchdown in red zone drills.
The highlight of the day – well, one of them – was Lance’s stretch of four-straight red zone touchdowns. He opened with a dart throw to now-tight-end Jordan Matthews on an open seam. Then he ran a fake option handoff to Wayne Gallman, when Matthews showed up again with a key block.
Matthews was getting hyped throughout all of this, much to the amusement of George Kittle, who said after practice he’s been impressed with Matthews growth – the two worked together over the summer, and Kittle said just three weeks ago in Nashville that Matthews needed serious improvement on his blocking form, and has shown that so far.
The final two plays of that electric set from Lance were a read-option run which Lance took to his left, scoring with ease. To be clear, this was a touchdown regardless of the hands-off policy defenders have for Lance. He capped off the red zone set with a nice touch pass in the back right corner of the end zone for Nsimba Webster; he threw it where only Webster could make a play on the ball, and he did, attacking it at the high point despite decent coverage on the play.
Lance had one other touchdown on the day outside of the red zone, hitting Brandon Aiyuk in stride on a deep crosser over the middle after a low snap from Daniel Brusnkill, who was getting his first reps of camp at center. Aiyuk’s defender, Tony Jefferson, slipped, and Aiyuk was gone from the moment he turned upfield.
The other two notable Lance throws were both intended for Kittle. One was an underthrown deep ball, which Kittle jokingly ribbed Lance for after practice, saying that he underestimates Kittle’s speed. Kittle was fouled on the play by rookie safety Talanoa Hufanga, which, again, was Lance’s lone incompletion.
He made up for it later, on a roughly 40-yard throw to Kittle over the middle. Kittle again had to turn back to the ball, but it got there in rhythm and between the two defensive backs converging on the ball. Oh, and there was a nice throw to a wide-open Ross Dwelley deep down the right sideline; Dwelley cooked linebacker Jonas Griffith on the play, which is becoming a theme for Griffith as he’s been caught out playing deep coverage.
There are more Lance highlights than there are dull plays with him.
Meanwhile, Garoppolo was 6-of-11 with one red zone touchdown on a gorgeous play-action bootleg to George Kittle. In his second set, though, he looked jittery. He had his first pass broken up towards Deebo Samuel on nice coverage from Ken Webster, but his second was nearly an interception.
Tavon Wilson — who defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans singled out after practice as the player he’s been most pleasantly surprised by — read Garoppolo’s eyes and sat down in a hook-curl zone, all while reading Garoppolo’s eyes as he looked for Ross Dwelley. As soon as Garoppolo launched, Wilson came off that low zone and tried to make a play on the ball, and probably should have picked it off.
It was another clear day in which Garoppolo looked outclassed and outmatched by the rookie. At this point, the only ways in which Garoppolo can be decisively better than Lance are on things which go on in the quarterback room. He’s surely more familiar with the 49ers’ checks, what to look for at the line of scrimmage, the flow of play calls, minor mid-game adjustments, etc.
But it’s evident as ever that if Lance isn’t exactly miles behind in that category. Offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel had an eye-popping quote after practice, crediting Lance’s ability to control the offense.
“He’s really comfortable in his own skin,” McDaniel said. “And he’s getting to the point where he can correct other players, which from a coach’s perspective is all you’re looking for. You want a coach on the field. The person that a receiver is going to listen to, much more than a coach, is the guy that’s throwing him the ball. So he’s been very good with that and I think that a lot of guys respond to that.”
There wasn’t too much of note on Wednesday outside of the quarterback (non-)competition. There were no one-on-ones between the defensive line and offensive line, and it looked like a bit of an easier day on the defensive line in general after the first day of padded practice on Tuesday.
Samson Ebukam sat out with soreness, while Nick Bosa had another maintenance day and was not on hand. Also out were the expecteds Azeez Al-Shaair (knee), MyCole Pruitt (calf) and Tim Harris Jr. (groin). Dontae Johnson returned to practice after sitting out with a foot injury, and veteran corner B.W. Webb made his debut and performed pretty well, especially in a handful of 1-on-1s. Jalen Hurd did not participate in 1-on-1s; he was involved in 11-on-11s, but has yet to be targeted. Javon Kinlaw was also extremely limited, but that was not related to injury.