Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

Greg Cosell has thoughts on why the 49ers ran Trey Lance so often in his first start

Oct 14, 2021 at 12:06 PM--

San Francisco 49ers players aren't around their Santa Clara headquarters right now because the team is on its bye week. However, they will return next week to begin preparations for the Indianapolis Colts.

The off time is a good opportunity to listen to analysts like Greg Cosell, who joined KNBR today and shared his thoughts on rookie quarterback Trey Lance's first start this past weekend, a 17-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

What did the respected long-time analyst think of the 21-year-old's starting debut? Lance ran the football 16 times for 89 yards, which was a bit unexpected considering head coach Kyle Shanahan had said that fans could expect the rookie looking more like a quarterback and less like a running back in the game, taking more snaps from under center rather than from the shotgun. That did not happen.

"I think about 10 or 11 of [the 16 carries] were designed runs, which is still quite a few," Cosell said on the Murph & Mac show. "And my sense is that was done in this given game for a couple of reasons. Number one, they wanted to get Lance comfortable, doing what he does well. He runs the ball well, and I'm sure he's been doing that since he started playing quarterback. He's always been a good athlete. My guess is they wanted to get him comfortable and settled into the game."

Cosell is correct that Lance showed next-level athleticism at North Dakota State. In his only full season for the Bison, he racked up 1,100 rushing yards and 14 rushing touchdowns to go along with his 2,786 passing yards and 28 passing touchdowns.

"The second part, I think, and the reason the number was probably high — relatively high — was because the game was close," Cosell continued. "And the 49ers never really, until that final touchdown by the Cards, the 49ers never really had to get out of their offensive approach.

"Whenever Lance becomes the starter, whenever that may be, my guess is that's not doing to be what they do on a weekly basis. I think that was more to get Trey Lance comfortable."

Cosell added that he felt the number of designed runs the 49ers asked Lance to do was "too much."

Given what he was asked to do, what did the analyst think of Lance's performance itself? He answered that question by stating that maybe the 49ers knew Lance isn't ready to take the top spot on the quarterback depth chart.

"I'll answer that this way: I think Kyle Shanahan and the staff knew that he wasn't quite ready to do that, and that's another reason they ran him so much," Cosell said. "I think he made a couple of really good throws. One was dropped by [Mohamed] Sanu; it might have been his best throw of the day. He made a really good throw to [Brandon] Aiyuk; I think it might have been 3rd-and-25, and I think it was for 26 yards. But then he missed a few.

"At this point in time, and this is what he needs to work on, and I don't know if this can be worked on through the course of a season or if you need an offseason, but he's a rocket-ball thrower. He needs to develop a lot more pace and touch on some of the shorter throws.

"… I think there were positives [and] there were negatives. And I think you keep working on what needs to be worked on. People say, 'Is the guy ready to be a starter?' That's a very subjective question. There's a lot of factors that go into that. But they've got a quality starting quarterback on the roster [in Jimmy Garoppolo]."

There are a lot of fans who would prefer the 49ers move forward with their rookie rather than return to Garoppolo. Cosell doesn't necessarily share that belief. It may not matter, though, because Lance may not even be healthy enough to play against the Colts. He is dealing with a knee injury, and it seems unlikely that San Francisco will choose to go back and forth with its quarterbacks as long as the playoffs remain a possibility.

"I know there's a lot of people who believe just because he can run around and Garoppolo can't, that that automatically makes him a better option," Cosell shared. "But I think the whole point, and the reason coaches work 16, 17 hours a day, is they want the quarterback to execute the offense. And I think, at this point in time, Jimmy Garoppolo executes the offense better than Trey Lance. But the bottom line is Trey Lance has started one game, so this is not a knock on Trey Lance. This is just where he is right now."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Cosell below.

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