Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

What to Expect from 49ers Rookie Trey Lance’s Second Start

Chris Beno
Dec 29, 2021 at 7:40 AM--

The San Francisco 49ers' third overall pick, Trey Lance, is primed for his second career start this season, though he hasn't officially been ruled the starter yet for Sunday's matchup against the Houston Texans. Still, the likelihood of veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo playing through a torn ligament (UCL) and fracture in his right thumb is slim to none.

According to UCSF Orthopedic Surgeon Dr. Nirav Pandya it's usually 5-6 weeks of recovery if Garoppolo opts for surgery.

If the 49ers win on Sunday against the Texans and the New Orleans Saints lose to the Carolina Panthers, then the 49ers lock in a playoff berth. Asking your rookie quarterback to come in and win such a crucial game is a big ask, especially when the team has opted to sideline him his rookie year to avoid throwing him in the fire too soon.

In Lance's first start, the Week 5 loss against the Arizona Cardinals earlier this season, he went 15 for 25, 192 yards passing and one interception in that game. Though Lance often looked rushed, he still showed flashes of what made him the number three overall pick. He showed off his big arm, mobility with his legs in pressure situations, and willingness to target the intermediate to deeper levels of the field on passing plays.

The downfall for Lance in that game was the 16 times he ran the ball, with many of those rushes being designed QB power runs. Ultimately, it led to Lance injuring his knee, which many believe prevented him from taking over as the starter the following the bye week, or even the rest of the season.

Head coach Kyle Shanahan indicated in a press conference back in October that, had Lance not gotten injured, he would've started the game against the Indianapolis Colts.

"I think it's been good," Shanahan said. "I think it was real unfortunate that, at the time he got to play, I thought he was ready to take off a little bit after that getting that experience. I thought that that was going to be great for him to come back the next week, especially with Jimmy banged up a little bit, but he had an unfortunate injury and it's lasting a little longer than expected. So, I'm excited to get him out there today. But he hasn't done anything in a couple of weeks, so we'll see where his progress is now."

In all honesty, injuries and Garoppolo playing well in key moments have prevented any type of quarterback switch from taking place this season. Lance chipped a bone the final week of the pre-season in his throwing hand, preventing him from possibly being declared the starter from the beginning of the season. Knowing that injury requires roughly a five-week recovery, he was likely still limited until he was forced to go in halfway through the first matchup against Seattle in Week 4 when Garoppolo got hurt.

That might explain why he was treated more like a running back in his first start than a quarterback. Maybe the finger wasn't fully healed. Then he injures his knee in that game, which gave Garoppolo the opportunity to turn his season around and keep Lance sidelined.

So, what can people honestly expect from Lance in his second start? Without being in the building and seeing him live it's impossible to say, but back in November Shanahan gave an update on where Lance is in terms of the playbook.

"Trey has the whole playbook in his head," Shanahan declared. "He was able to do that in training camp. If you work at it, you're going to learn it all, but it's about going through it full speed. It's about going through it at game-time tempo and going against the blitzes and all the stuff that can surprise you, and knowing when a play is a good play, when it's a bad play, when you've got to get out of something, when you've got to get to the No. 4 choice in the progression as opposed to the one you practiced during the week. That just comes with experience. He's getting more and more of it. You can never get too much."

The playbook should be opened up for the rookie quarterback this Sunday. I expect a game plan very similar to one Garoppolo would get. Get Lance into a rhythm early, establish the run, and get the ball into your playmaker's hands. I do not anticipate a bunch of designed QB power runs, especially with Garoppolo out this season and the playoff's looming. An injury to Lance would be a nail in the coffin for the season. There is nothing special about a Jimmy Garoppolo game plan that Lance shouldn't be able to handle.

For the past month, Lance has been the star at practice. Shanahan was asked about that about a week ago during a press conference.

"I think this last month of Trey has been his best consecutive four weeks of practice since we've had him." Shanahan responded. "He's had a number of good days, and he's had some bad days like most guys do, but as far as his consistency, I feel this last month has been his best."

Shanahan was later asked what improvements he has seen from Lance over the last month.

"Throwing the ball better, making the right decisions better," he said. "I think he's gotten healthier too. Just coming out of the preseason, coming out of his first game, I think his body has been doing better, so all of the above."

Even the players are excited for the rookie to make his second start. Offensive guard Laken Tomlinson joined on KNBR yesterday and spoke highly of the young star.

"I was extremely impressed with the couple games that he got to play early in the year," Tomlinson said. "Just the way he handled his business and went out there and operated the offense. A lot of guys are excited for him and what he can do with this offense. He's taken every day and he's getting better. He's getting coached up—real coachable guy, and we love to see it. Especially a guy that young doing all those different things, so it's very [exciting]."

What can't be controlled are the expectations place on Lance from outside sources. There will be people who will hold him to the same standard they hold eight-year veteran quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to. Then there will be people who are willing to roll with the punches that come with playing a rookie quarterback.

At the end of the day on Sunday, fans will either wonder why the team hasn't played Lance all season or declare him a bust. No player should be declared the "next great" or a bust in their rookie year, especially a quarterback. Look at Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who struggled mightily his rookie year, but is now easily a Top 5 quarterback in the league.

Barring any COVID related issues, this 49ers offense should be healthier and more available this week than they were in Lance's first start. If he can lean on guys like Deebo Samuel and George Kittle, he should be fine.
  • Chris Beno
  • Written by:
    Coming from Elk Grove, California I grew up a Bay Area sports fan. I've been cheering for the 49ers for as long as I can remember. In 2005 I joined the Army when I was 18 and got stationed at Fort Hood, Texas. I just kind of hung around here. I've always enjoyed writing and have typically focused on writing music. I am truly blessed to get to cover the 49ers, and have my articles published on the 49ers Webzone. I didn't realize it was something I wanted to pursue as a career, but am now focused on doing just that. I appreciate all of the Faithful that take the time to read the articles people put out there.
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