Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

George Kittle impressed by Trey Lance’s progress, says 49ers QB benefitted from Jimmy Garoppolo

May 20, 2022 at 10:40 AM--

It isn't easy to speculate on the development of Trey Lance during practices. Most of those criticizing the young quarterback were not watching him every day. One player who did watch Lance every day is his San Francisco 49ers teammate, George Kittle. The All-Pro tight end loves what he has seen from the now-22-year-old quarterback.

Lance is expected to be the 49ers' starter come Week 1 of the upcoming season. However, the starter of the past four-and-a-half seasons, Jimmy Garoppolo, remains on the roster. Garoppolo is recovering from the shoulder surgery he underwent on March 8, so the 49ers can't trade the veteran quarterback until he is medically cleared to throw again.

Kittle joined The Pat McAfee Show on Friday and was asked if Garoppolo remaining on the roster while Lance prepares to become the starter makes for an awkward situation in the locker room.

"Some would say it's definitely awkward," Kittle told McAfee. "You trade three first-round picks for a quarterback, there's writing on the wall. It is what it is. It's the NFL's profession. Everyone's trying to bring in younger, better, cheaper players, and that's just the way the league is.

"So there's an awkwardness to it, I guess. But at the end of the day, we're all here on the same team. We're trying to win a Super Bowl. The lucky thing that we have here at the Niners is I feel like we have a fantastic culture of guys who just want to get better every day, and we love everybody in the locker room.

"Jimmy G, he could have been a dick and said, 'It's not my job, not my responsibility to take care of this guy and put him under my wing.' But instead, what he did is he was professional every single day. He didn't complain one time. He showed up, he worked, he started, he got us to the NFC Championship Game, and he helped Trey along the way.

"So I thought Trey took a bunch of steps forward. And for Trey to become a really good quarterback in the NFL, he needs reps. And so, once this kid gets a lot of reps, just watch out because some of the things I've seen him do in practice is kind of mind-boggling, so I'm waiting for it."

Trey has learned from Garoppolo's work ethic. The second-year player became close with his new mentor, Garoppolo, and forged a friendship. While other rookie quarterbacks were thrown into the fire right away to mixed results, the 49ers' talent level afforded Lance to sit and learn.

"I think it's consistently gotten better, but you could see -- like, Jimmy G is a professional through and through," Kittle continued. "Jimmy G takes notes every single meeting. He asks questions every meeting. He's in his books. And I think once Trey saw that, he's like, 'Oh, I need to do all that and more.'

"And it's also too, we've got a great quarterback room. We've got Nate Sudfeld in there ... He's great for Trey too, because he's a people person. He helps Trey with the offense, and he did a great job helping him all year too. So Trey has taken, in my opinion, big steps forward. If you compare him to last year's OTAs, I think he's two different players, and that's just exciting to see."

The 49ers roster is deep enough with talent to potentially make up for any growing pains that Lance may experience in his first season as a starter. No one expects things to be perfect for the young quarterback right out of the gate.

"Now, if Trey Lance is the starting quarterback, and I say 'if' because I have no idea what's going to happen ... all he needs is reps," Kittle explained. "And if there's growing pains, there's growing pains. I think we have a good enough team around him, from Trent Williams to Nick Bosa to Fred Warner to George [Kittle] to [Brandon] Aiyuk to Deebo Samuel. We have enough guys to help him out through those growing pains. So, if it happens, it is what it is, and if at the end of the day we have to run the ball 35 times, count me in, baby."

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