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Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

49ers’ Kyle Shanahan shares real reason behind Trey Lance’s lack of playing time

Dec 9, 2021 at 4:22 PM--

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Kyle Shanahan isn't revealing anything about the San Francisco 49ers' plan against the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend. That includes the possibility of seeing rookie quarterback Trey Lance getting some snaps. Lance has not thrown an in-game pass since Week 5.

The 49ers are short on healthy running backs, and Shanahan isn't optimistic about the team's leading rusher, rookie Elijah Mitchell, being available this weekend. He is dealing with a knee injury and is in the concussion protocol. Jeff Wilson is dealing with a flare-up in his knee. He was limited in Wednesday's practice but a full participant on Thursday. Trenton Cannon is in the concussion protocol, and Trey Sermon is on the injured reserve list.

Lance's athleticism could complement the team's rushing attack with so many running backs ailing.

"There is always a chance [Lance plays]," Shanahan said on KNBR's Tolbert, Krueger & Brooks show. "We have a No. 2 quarterback who has a different skill set than our starter. That's something that defenses understand that we could use at any time. That's stuff that they have to go over, which I do like them always going over that.

"But when people want to know why I haven't done it as much, [it's because] I don't enjoy it as much as I thought I would, and that has nothing to do with Trey. Being down at running back doesn't ever enter my mind, 'Hey, let's play our second quarterback more.' I'm not putting Trey in to be a running back. I'm putting him in to be a quarterback who is a threat to run, which kind of opens up a lot of different stuff.

"Those questions don't really go hand in hand for me with looking at our personnel."

While the 49ers offense hasn't featured the occasional Lance appearances that were more common earlier in the season, the coach says the plan for developing the rookie quarterback hasn't changed.

"I haven't changed with how we [want] to develop him," Shanahan said. "Doing that stuff had nothing to do with developing him. That had to do with stuff that I believed would help us. But I kind of explained that, I think, about a couple of weeks ago in just that had nothing to do with Trey. It was my first time doing something like that to where I watched teams, not just with quarterbacks, but in short-yardage situations, red-zone situations. If they have a guy with the skill set, who can play the quarterback position and be a run threat, it's a great situational football weapon.

"So, that was something that I was excited about, going into the year, to where even if Jimmy [Garoppolo] did earn the job, like he did, I still planned on, because of their different skill sets, using Trey in some of those, which we did at the beginning of the year."

Shanahan added the 49ers game plan by studying defensive fronts, coverages, and everything the offense is trying to attack. That means the offensive plan is dependent on getting particular looks from the opposing defense.

"What got hard for me is I'd see all this stuff in the game and be like, 'Oh, this is going to be perfect to put Trey in and have a runner go against this stuff,'" Shanahan continued. "Then you bring him in on 3rd-and-1 or 1st-and-goal on the five, and you get a completely different defense. And it's not at all what I was expecting because I started to realize, 'Oh, when Trey comes in, it's kind of the first play of the game for him and how the defense is viewing him.'

"And that I didn't like because I didn't know what I was attacking then. The only way to get a feel for that is to keep Trey in for—I don't know—eight plays? Then you get an idea of how they're playing him. And then it would be more fun to attack. But then, what do you do when you go back to the other quarterbacks?

"So it became more of just a pain for me, and I didn't feel like you were getting the best looks because we didn't know what to expect. It's something I didn't enjoy but it's something that we can always use. It's something that has nothing to do with [Lance], but if I do feel like I have an idea of what we're doing, what we're going to get, and it makes sense, I still won't hesitate to do it."

You can listen to the entire conversation with Shanahan below.

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