Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

Stan Szeto-USA TODAY Sports

John Lynch: Trey Lance has to prove he can stay healthy, 49ers QB injuries not caused by play-calling

Feb 1, 2023 at 3:12 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers have had six starting quarterbacks since Kyle Shanahan took over as head coach in 2017. Four quarterbacks took snaps this season alone, including the playoffs. The only quarterback to start an entire season is Jimmy Garoppolo, who did so in 2019. Much of the constant quarterback switching has been due to injuries.

The 49ers entered the regular season with Trey Lance atop their quarterback depth chart. Jimmy Garoppolo was QB2, and Brock Purdy, a rookie, was QB3.

Then Week 2 hit.

That's when Lance went down with a season-ending ankle injury. Eleven weeks later, Garoppolo exited a game with what turned out to be a season-ending broken foot, although there was a slim chance he might have been able to suit up had the 49ers reached the Super Bowl.

That left Purdy, one-time QB3, as the starter for the remainder of the season. Unfortunately, his impressive run ended in the NFC Championship Game when the rookie suffered a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in the elbow of his throwing arm during the first quarter.

With Purdy sidelined for about six months, Lance is the only current 49ers quarterback who will be available for OTAs. Garoppolo is scheduled to become a free agent.

On Wednesday, when Shanahan was asked during the team's end-of-season press conference if he could envision a scenario where Garoppolo might return, the coach responded, "No, I don't see any scenario of that."

The 49ers view their injury problem as a string of bad luck. They have confidence in Lance, but the now-third-year quarterback will have to prove he can remain on the field.

"Trey had his issues, and Trey's had a rough go here the last couple of years," general manager John Lynch, a former NFL safety, told reporters. "He's obviously going to have to prove that he can stay healthy, but I know there was periods of my career early on where I struggled to stay healthy, then I went eight years without missing a snap. So that happens sometimes."

Does something need to change for the 49ers, though? It can't be a coincidence that the team has struggled to keep a quarterback on the field for 16-plus games in all but one season. Can it? Does the system San Francisco (Shanahan) runs take too much of a toll on quarterbacks?

"I'm sure people wonder, Jimmy's had his issues, but believe me, it's nothing with the way we play our quarterbacks or anything," Lynch said. "I think it's just coincidence, and we look into everything. But I don't think we have any more of an issue than anybody else. I think that's a tough position in this league."

Not many teams reach QB5 on their depth chart in one season, though, as the 49ers did in this one. QB5 being Purdy, who re-entered Sunday's game, unable to throw, replacing QB4, Josh Johnson, who was ruled out with a concussion.

As the play caller, Shanahan was asked if the four injuries might lead to him reconsidering how he is protecting his quarterbacks. The coach didn't sound too happy with the question itself.

"I think when you ask that question that way, I understand, but I think if you looked at the injuries, common sense would answer that question," Shanahan replied. "How have they gotten hurt? I'm sorry Josh got a concussion when he hit the ground, so that's the fourth one you're talking about. I'm sorry our quarterback (Purdy) got his elbow bent backward on a normal drop-back pass. I'm sorry, on a drop-back pass, someone rolled up on Jimmy's ankle. And then we have a dual-threat quarterback (Lance) who got hurt running the ball."

Of course, earlier in the season, many questioned whether Shanahan's utilization of Lance put the quarterback at unnecessary risk. As for Purdy, some have criticized having tight end Tyler Kroft as the obstacle in front of Eagles pass rusher Haason Reddick on the way to the quarterback. It looked like a complete mismatch, inviting disaster.

"No quarterbacks got hurt when we had to hand it off the whole second half, so we can look into that," Shanahan said sarcastically as he concluded his answer to the original question.

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