With San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo battling a torn UCL in his right thumb, Trey Lance is expected make his second start under center on Sunday, as the 49ers host the Houston Texans at Levi’s Stadium.
Lance’s first start came in the 49ers 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Oct. 10 – a game in which his was 15-of-29 for 192 yards and an interception, and a game in which he suffered a knee sprain.
“It was a long time ago that I played, or it seems like a long time ago…,” Lance said on a Friday Zoom with the media. “I’ve gotten to see Jimmy go through different situations, whether it’s in games or in practices. Also having [QB] Nate Sudfeld in the room is a huge help for me. Just to have another person to bounce ideas off of, to ask questions too. And Jimmy…has always been there to answer my questions. From a health standpoint, I think I feel probably the most healthy I’ve felt since I’ve been here…”
Lance’s main role this season has been as the scout-team quarterback, giving the 49ers defense a good idea of what to expect from opposing QBs. However, the rookie wasn’t exactly giving an accurate performance.
“He was kind of playing things a little safer, using his legs a lot to try and extend , or even just to run, because he didn’t want to throw an interception,” linebacker Fred Warner said. “I had to kind of pull him to the side. First of all, we weren’t getting the work that we needed to defend balls down the field, and you saw that on gameday. For his sake, I’m like, ‘Listen, this is your opportunity to take chances and develop that part of your game. Try to see, can you fit the ball into tight spaces? Can you throw on the run and make a completed pass downfield?’ You started seeing these crazy plays where he’s just getting it right over guys’ fingertips and just tossing the ball downfield making these great plays.”
Lance said that the discussion happened more than once, and sometimes got a little, well, intense.
“We’ve had that conversation a couple times, sometimes maybe more heated than others,” Lance said. “…I’m a competitor, Fred’s obviously one of the best competitors I’ve ever been around. And for him to care, not only about the look they’re getting, but also my development. Him kind of pulling me off to the side or maybe us shouting across the line of scrimmage…And even if it’s throwing a ball that I necessarily don’t want to throw, it’s important for those guys and obviously I can get something out of it too.”
Head coach Kyle Shanahan said earlier this week that the last month has been Lance’s best of practice since coming to San Francisco, so it worked.
“…[G]uys are locked in and they’re helping him out in walkthroughs.” Shanahan said. “But besides that, I don’t think anyone thinks they have to do anything extra. I think guys believe in Trey. I think guys expect him to go out there and play well…He knows how to get in the huddle. He takes command. His preparation is very impressive and I think that gives the guys a lot of confidence in him.”
Quarterbacks need to exude confidence. Quarterbacks need to give off a feeling of control. Those are qualities that take time and qualities that make a leader, and the 21 year-old is making strides in all of them.
“He’s a charismatic, humble, young kid,” said offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel. “It’s like going to a new school. At first, you see glimmers of someone’s personality, but if you have any social awareness, you kind of feel it out and see your place…I think people really respect his work ethic. That’s earned, not given, and you feel that as a player and you allow it to all hang out. He’s really just another player on the team and on this team, there’s no room for individuals or ‘I’s. It’s all about what’s the best for the 49ers and the way he diligently tries to work at his craft, I think is very impactful to his teammates.
“And much like we were talking about Brandon Aiyuk, kind of showing his personality, that’s kind of what we’ve experienced with Trey and understanding that players want him to lead and him actually embracing that. And you can hear it in his voice. You can hear it in how he handles his teammates. It’s been cool to watch.”
It’s probably worth mentioning that Lance’s locker is between safety Jimmie Ward – the longest-tenured 49er – and veteran CB Jason Verrett. That certainly doesn’t hurt leadership development.
For Aiyuk, Lance’s personality makes him easy to get along with.
“We talk about it at the locker room all the time, and just how he fits in with everybody,” Aiyuk said. “Just every position group, every individual, you can go up and talk to Trey and it’s just easy conversation, everything flows just talking to him, playing around with him, playing football with him. Even the way that everybody respects him, just by the way that he prepares and the way that he handles himself as professional.”
Work ethic, passion and quarterbacking. These are a few of the things that stand out to tight end George Kittle.
“He leads by example,” Kittle said. “He is not really a rah-rah guy yet. He’s still a rookie, and he’s still finding his footing…You can tell how much he cares about the game. You can tell about his passion for it, his love for the game. And whether that’s inspiring or motivating, I kind of think it’s a little bit of both, but you can just tell how much work he puts into it. And then just the fact of being a quarterback, he just kind of had that leadership quality. And he’s definitely not shying away from it. And I know he speaks his voice when he needs to…[H]e’s done a really good job so far.”