Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Mailbag: Will Elijah Mitchell play Sunday? Who’s playing the guard positions? Can Trey Lance remain the starter? And more.

Marc Adams
Sep 7, 2022 at 8:53 AM--

It's Week One of the NFL regular season. The San Francisco 49ers are going to be traveling to Soldier Field to play the Chicago Bears on Sunday.

Second-year quarterback Trey Lance will be starting his third pro football game. Jimmy Garoppolo will likely be his backup. The big question is, will rookie Brock Purdy be in uniform, as well? Remember, Garoppolo did not start throwing until June, and he did not start practicing until this week. So if Lance were to go down with an injury on Sunday, will Garoppolo be ready to play a real game?

Let's get to the mailbag and answer your questions.

Finally, the season is here! What are your best case, worst case, and most likely outcome for the 49ers this season? I'm thinking Super Bowl or bust. - Niner Jim

I'm in the same boat as you, Niner Jim. I think we should be thinking Super Bowl for the 49ers.

My best-case scenario: Winning Super Bowl number six!

Worst-case: Lance is terrible, the offensive line is terrible, the team suffers more injuries like in 2020, Garoppolo has to take over at quarterback, and we all go into the new year wondering who will be the signal-caller in 2023. Scary enough?

Most likely outcome: Lance struggles at times and is dynamic at times. The defense and running game carry the team in the postseason. What happens at that point is anyone's guess. But I think it will be a fun season.

How does the offensive line stack up to last season's line? Will it protect Lance well enough? - David Silva

Well, let's break it down:

Left tackle: Trent Williams. Same as last year. Hopefully, he'll stay healthy. If he is healthier than last season, he should be better than last season.
Left guard: Aaron Banks. Worse. Perhaps in time Banks can be as good as Laken Tomlinson, but he's not there yet.
Center: Jake Brendel. Worse. Brendel is replacing longtime veteran Alex Mack. This is a downgrade, but the coaches seem to like Brendel.
Right guard: Spencer Burford. I'm going to say Burford will be worse than Daniel Brunskill was last season early on, but better by season's end.
Right tackle: Mike McGlinchey. If McGlinchey is healthy enough to play, this should be an upgrade over those who replaced him last season.

My initial thought is that the offensive line is worse than last year. But this group has room to grow. And don't forget about Brunskill. If one of the guards struggles, he can step in. He's not great, but he'll get you by.

I think the interior of the line will struggle until it can start to gel. Once that happens, I think we'll see that they can perform well enough to give Lance time to throw.

What does Trey Lance have to do to remain the starter? - GandalfwasGrey

I think Kyle Shanahan will be patient with Lance. Now, if he looks like he's not ready, and the team is losing because of him, then Garoppolo could end up playing. But as long as he's not costing them some wins, I predict he will remain the starter. There has to be some grace for him. He's played a total of 10 quarters. A young player learns by playing. They need to let him play.

If he manages the game, avoids drive-killing, game-changing mistakes, and gets the ball to his playmakers, he will be fine.

Will the Niners stop the QB from running all over the field this time? - MONEY

Last season, Lance only ran the ball 38 times. That might seem like a lot, but almost half of those came in the game against Arizona. He ran the ball half as many times against Houston, later in the season. And don't forget, there were a few times early in the season that Shanahan brought Lance in to run specific plays.

Certainly, Lance ran the ball too much in the first two games he played. But eight rushes in the Houston game wasn't too bad. His legs and athleticism are one reason why the 49ers wanted him. So he needs to run some. He just needs to learn to get down and not take big hits.

I heard a radio host on KNBR say Lance was looking to run too much last season. I'm not sure I agree with that. Maybe in that Arizona game, but that was an anomaly. I think he is a QB who can run, but he's usually looking to throw first.

Why are so many 49ers fans doubting Trey Lance's potential? Dude is wicked smart, has a cannon of an arm, and is seemingly beloved by his teammates. There are arguably only ~10 NFL teams with better QB potential/promise. - Pabs

I would say any fans who are doubting Lance as QB1 for 2022 are just fans who haven't seen enough to be convinced he's the one to lead the 49ers to the Super Bowl. None of us have seen enough. I think it's unfair to say he's not the guy. And it's equally unrealistic to anoint him the next Joe Montana.

No one should doubt his potential, though. He's very bright, laser-focused, and extremely athletic. He has it all. The only concern I have at this point is whether he can learn to be a more accurate passer of the football.

Even Steve Young has talked about this. "Actually, he's processing as well as anybody," Young said. "He can understand what's happening. He can figure out who [is open]. And that's a real talent. That's not easy. That's not just given. There's a real skill there. So I have 100 percent confidence that Trey will figure out where to throw it.

"The challenge for Trey is, once he knows, then how to deliver it. That's another great talent that you have to have and develop. So for me, it's the accuracy that comes with [things] as he shows his processing power. I think his body will respond, and he'll find the open guys and figure it out. And then it gives you a confidence to deliver it.

"So more than anything, it's delivering the ball to the open guy over and over and over again, and getting that confidence, because that's the spot he needs to work on. This is more of a throwing thing than it is a mind thing. Some guys have mind things. Some guys have both. But Trey has a really sharp processing mind, and I think that's going to take him a long way."

I'm not concerned about Lance's ability to process the game, block out distractions, learn his craft, or any of that. My only concern is the accuracy of his throws. And that will hopefully improve over time.

By the way, Pabs, I'm giving you extra credit for working "Dude is wicked smart" into your question/statement. Well done!

Will Elijah Mitchell start & play vs Chicago? - Big Guy

We should know more as the week goes on, but as it stands, Shanahan expects Elijah Mitchell to play on Sunday. That could change, of course, but it's looking good.

That said, if I had him on my fantasy team, I'm not sure I'd start him. Even if he does play, I don't think he will carry the kind of load we saw him carry last season. For one thing, he has better rushers behind him in a healthy Jeff Wilson, Jr., Ty Davis-Price and Jordan Mason.

I don't think the 49ers will push Mitchell too much until he's healthy. Then again, he was rarely healthy last season, and he continued to carry the load.

Right now today, do you believe Lance is an upgrade over Jimmy? - Thomas Hubbard

Thomas is coming in with a controversial question that is going to get me yelled at, regardless of how I answer. Thanks, Thomas.

I don't know yet. In a few more weeks, I will. I think Lance has star potential. But Garoppolo is a proven winner.

Here's one thing I will say. If the interior of the offensive line is really bad, Garoppolo might be a better option (cue the pitchforks and torches). Normally we would think of the mobile QB being the better option behind a suspect offensive line. But in this case, Garoppolo gets the ball out quicker than Lance does. So if the group responsible for keeping Lance upright isn't up to the task, Lance may not be an upgrade over Garoppolo...yet.

In time, I don't think it will be close. But the question was "right now today." So I'm going to say Lance is an upgrade if the offensive line gives him time to throw. If not, then no.

(Please send your hate mail to 49ers Webzone, attention David.)

Who are the starting left guard and right guard? - Chris Anthony

As I mentioned above, my prediction would Banks (left guard) and Burford (right guard). But again, don't forget about Brunskill. If one of the young guys struggles, Brunskill may end up sliding in and playing that spot.

Who will get signed to the practice squad at QB? Once Jimmie G gets traded, they'll need another QB waiting in the wings. - Jonathan Ray II

As Jonathan mentioned, there is a possibility that Garoppolo gets traded before the trade deadline. There will likely be a quarterback or two who get injured, and that team might need to bring someone in. So it is possible.

But it is also very possible that Garoppolo is not traded, and stays with the team the entire season.

If the 49ers do trade Garoppolo, I don't have any clue who they would pick up. I'd have to see who is still available. Nate Sudfeld signed with the Detroit Lions, so he wouldn't be an option.

Which starters may not be ready for the season? - David Silva

Jimmie Ward won't be ready, due to an injury.

But if you're asking which starters may not be ready, for other reasons, I would throw out these players who may not be ready (mostly due to a lack of experience):

  • Lance
  • Banks
  • Burford
  • Talanoa Hufanga
  • Tarvarius Moore (Coming back from injury, and he takes bad angles, which is scary for a safety who's often the last line of defense. If he's filling in for Ward for the first four weeks, let's hope he is ready.)

Thanks so much for all your questions. We'll be back next week to discuss the game against the Bears.
The opinions within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.
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