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“It felt odd”: Steve Young surprised by 49ers’ limited use of Trey Lance in 2021

Jul 20, 2022 at 7:10 AM--

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Everyone expected San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan to use his new quarterback, Trey Lance, in exciting ways last season. At the start of the season, it looked like that might be the case. Jimmy Garoppolo was the established starter, but Lance came into the Week 1 and Week 3 games as part of what seemed to be plays explicitly designed to take advantage of his unique skill set.

Lance scored against the Detroit Lions, throwing the 49ers' first touchdown of the season. Then he had a rushing touchdown against the Green Bay Packers.

After that, Lance remained sidelined aside from his two starts in place of an injured Garoppolo and second-half play against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4. He made just 71 pass attempts in 2021. Shanahan seemed to shy away from utilizing Lance for the rest of the season, content with allowing his rookie quarterback to sit and learn behind Garoppolo.

It's worth noting that Lance suffered a finger injury during the preseason that plagued him through the whole season. Then he suffered a knee sprain during that start in Arizona. Still, Shanahan's avoidance of utilizing Lance was a surprise to many, including one Hall of Fame quarterback turned ESPN analyst.

"I was surprised," Steve Young told Damon Bruce and Larry Krueger on 95.7 The Game on Tuesday. "I thought that [Kyle], because of his personality, would be open to figuring out ways to get Trey on the field. I thought there would be a package of Trey Lance domination plays that Kyle could come up with. That didn't happen."

Most criticized Shanahan for sticking with Garoppolo when the 49ers started the season 2-4 and looked to be spiraling downward. It was viewed as an opportunity to give Lance much-needed reps in a season seemingly headed for disaster. Then San Francisco won eight of its final 11, earning a playoff spot in the season's final week and making it all the way to the NFC title game.

There were probably opportunities for Lance to get some snaps during that run, but it didn't happen. The game plan for Lance seemed off in that Week 5 start against the Cardinals as well.

"Then he only had chances to play," Young continued. "It seemed like [Shanahan] didn't want him to engage in a full game plan, running around against the Cardinals 16 times out of the huddle. So there's some oddities about it that makes you wonder if Kyle believed that he was—it's just hard to know. Based on what you watch and what you see, everything feels like he should be getting more opportunities and playing more, but it didn't come.

"Kyle knows he has a team [that can win a Super Bowl]. If there's a way to go get a Super Bowl, he's going to try to do it. And the fact that he didn't use Trey last year, unless he was pushed for it, was—I don't want to say 'telling' because it feels like we're in a good spot right now based on no gameplay in the '22 season ... but it felt odd [to everyone]. And it did feel odd to me as well."

With his rookie season behind him, Lance is slated to be the 49ers' full-time starter in 2022. The Niners report to training camp next week.

You can listen to the entire conversation with Young below.

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