Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Kyle Shanahan discusses having a dual-threat quarterback in 49ers rookie Trey Lance

Jun 12, 2021 at 8:00 AM--

Head coach Kyle Shanahan has a lot of confidence in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo's ability to lead the San Francisco 49ers offense. That confidence may waver when it comes to depending on his veteran passer to be available for the majority of the season. That, not his skill set, led Shanahan and the 49ers to seek another quarterback in the draft.

In January, Shanahan fell in love with the idea of acquiring Trey Lance. He liked several of this year's rookie quarterbacks, but it was the North Dakota State product who pushed him to want to trade up from No. 12 overall. So San Francisco did exactly that, moving up to No. 3 to select Lance, a prospect with little experience but huge upside.

Most assume that it is Lance's athletic ability that drew Shanahan to the quarterback. And to a certain extent, that is true. However, Lance had to first show that he could become a good pocket quarterback. The more film the 49ers coach watched, the more he believed that to be a strong possibility.

The running aspect of Lance's game, that was a bonus.

"Just watching him in college, everyone knows how good of a runner he is and how good of an athlete he is," Shanahan told Tim Kawakami of The Athletic during a recent interview. "But what was cool was just watching him, how he played in the pocket. It was very natural how he moved around in there and still stay a quarterback, and be able to scan the field and go through some progressions."

Shanahan noted that he first got intrigued by quarterbacks with the added element of running the football while coaching Robert Griffin III in Washington. Shanahan really hasn't had that kind of weapon at his disposal since. Certainly not during his time in Santa Clara.

Watching Lance's college film, Shanahan saw a chance to add that to his arsenal again.

"And when stuff broke down, [Lance] could very quickly turn himself into an athlete and go from a quarterback to a runner," Shanahan continued. "But it's always neat when you watch a guy who's got that athletic ability, who still, especially the level he played at, he was able to take over games with his legs a lot.

"But he never forced it. He sits there and scans the field and really can play in the pocket. And then he can play from numbers to numbers when he gets outside of it."

Kawakami was a bit more curious about the choice of Lance. Is the selection a signal that Shanahan wants a stronger arm that can push the football farther down the field than Garoppolo or any other quarterback on the roster?

Shanahan wants Lance's presence to be seen more like the 49ers adding a quarterback with unique abilities than looking to overcome potential deficiencies in Garoppolo's game. Yes, Garoppolo has missed 23 games over the past three seasons, but he is also 24-9 — including playoffs — as San Francisco's starter.

"I do believe Jimmy has those skills from a throwing standpoint," Shanahan said. "I think Jimmy can make every throw. But I think the obvious difference is when you have a quarterback who is a run threat — and that's not against Jimmy, that's against all the quarterbacks that we have — there are some guys who can scramble and stuff, but there's also some guys that you can actually pull inside and run for. And when you can do that, or you have the threat of it, which any time you're pretty much in shotgun or any time you're in a pistol formation, the defense has to account for him.

"Then when you don't have that, it's 11-on-10 football. And what I kind of like about the thought of having a quarterback who can attack that way is it changes the defenses you're going against. And sometimes it can make it a lot easier on the O-line, the receivers, just some of the looks that you get because sometimes there's two guys in the middle of the field, sometimes there's one. But when you've got to account for the quarterback, you've got to use that guy. There's never an extra guy, and that actually helps a lot more looks down the field.

"Now, I think all of our quarterbacks can make the throws down the field, but which guy's going to get the looks? And sometimes when you have a runner out there, you get a lot more better looks to air it out because they're worried about other things."

Adding Lance could create more opportunities for the 49ers offense. Pair the athletic quarterback with a coach who has proven to be able to scheme opportunities into existence, and that could create challenging situations for opposing defenses.

"My thing with Trey was it was just a different aspect of football," Shanahan added. "I just wanted the element that he could bring. And I wouldn't have been impressed with the running element if I didn't believe that he could be a quarterback from the pocket. So, you've got to have that skill set to, as I said, get in the club. But when you have the bonus of running, that's kind of what I got so intrigued with."

Click here to listen to the entire interview with Shanahan at The Athletic.

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