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49ers Mailbag: Which QB starts and finishes the season? Trey Lance expectations? Best training camp position battles?

Marc Adams
Jul 18, 2023 at 8:44 AM

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It's only a week before the 49ers training camp begins. The rookies actually report this week. That's something I don't remember Kyle Shanahan doing in the past, having the rookies report to camp a week before the rest of the team. I've heard it's for conditioning purposes, but I've also heard there may also be instructional sessions so the rookies can hit the ground running once practices begin next week.

Since it's time for training camp, that means it's time for the 49ers Webzone Mailbag to get back into the flow. We've reported in great shape and are ready to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Actually, I've probably never been more out of shape, but who cares—let's hit the mailbag!

Is anybody else as tired as I am of the endless "trade Trey Lance" talk making the rounds among the so-called pundits? - Bill M.

The 49ers QB talk is exhausting at times. You have national media consistently stirring the pot, and putting things out there, about all of the 49ers' QBs for the past few offseasons. Whether those things are simple misunderstandings, or the team is leaking information or clues, it usually gets a big response from the fanbase and local media, as well as other national media outlets. This, of course, is why they keep doing it—because it works. And even if you're sick of hearing/reading about it, the fact is that whether or not Trey Lance gets traded will have a great impact on this team, especially considering what they gave up for him.

But there are two groups of people we should not blame.

First, the players. They're not doing anything to make this happen. All they're doing is working to do their part to help the 49ers win another Super Bowl.

Second, the 49ers' content creators and beat writers. This group of people covers the team, regardless of what is being put out there. So whether it's big news or not, QB-related or not, doesn't really matter. The writers and reporters have to discuss what is being talked about. So when a national reporter says they think Lance will be traded in August, it's going to be overly discussed.

Never fear, though. The offseason is almost over. Very soon there will be plenty of new things to report on.

I think any of the three QBs could win the starting job. Based purely on your gut, who starts week one, and who is the end-of-season starting QB? I'm going Darnold starts and Purdy finishes. - DoctorWDS

I still have some doubts that Brock Purdy will be ready in week one. If he's close, will they want him to be the starter, without much of an offseason and training camp, on the road against a really good Pittsburgh pass rush? My gut says, "No."

Therefore, I predict Lance will start week one, but that Purdy finishes the season as the starter.

What are the proper expectations for Trey Lance? Is it still 3rd overall expectations? Is it beat out Darnold? Is it show well for a trade? - Nick E.

Right now, I think the expectations for Lance should be to beat out Sam Darnold for the number two QB spot, stay ready in case Purdy has to miss any time, and then keep working as though you're the quarterback of the future. I've said multiple times this offseason that just because Purdy gives the 49ers the best chance to win now doesn't mean he will give them the best chance in a couple of years. By that time, maybe Lance has developed and is the best choice.

No disrespect to Purdy, but he's coming off of a serious injury to his throwing elbow, has only played a handful of games, and was a 7th-rounder for a reason. Maybe every team was wrong multiple times, like everyone was wrong about Tom Brady, and Purdy is the next great 49ers QB. Or maybe he's simply a great story that was fun while it lasted. Either way, Lance needs to be ready and grow into what Shanahan and John Lynch saw in him.

Which positional groups have the most interesting camp battles to watch for roster spots? - Niner Jim

Here are some interesting camp battles to keep an eye on:

  • Edge rusher opposite of Nick Bosa. Is Drake Jackson ready to take that leap, or will it be an "edge rush by committee?"
  • Number three linebacker (more on that below).
  • Backup tight end. Will Cameron Latu or Brayden Willis step up?
  • Backup running back. Will Elijah Mitchell be healthy? Can Jordan Mason take another leap? Will Ty Davis-Price ever play?
  • Bacup corner. What happened to Amby Thomas and Samuel Womack last season? What role will Darrell Luter, Jr. play?
  • And what was the other one? Seems like there was one more positional battle. Oh yea, that little backup quarterback thing.

Could you please finish this sentence? The LBs are Warner, Greenlaw, and __________________. - Brauncoherd

This is an underrated position battle. Fred Warner and Dre Greenlaw are obviously LB1 and LB2. But who will be the third linebacker, the position left vacant by the offseason departure of Azeez Al-Shaair? I've seen some writers and reporters throw out Oren Burks' name, and he is certainly a possibility. But he's a core special teamer, and the 49ers have some other options that may be better suited at LB3, namely Marcelino McCrary-Ball, Dee Winters, Jalen Graham, and Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles.

The popular choices seem to be Burks and Flannigan-Fowles. But I'm going to go out on a limb and predict that McCrary-Ball will be the number three linebacker early on, with Winters and Graham on his heels. I doubt all of these players will make the team, though, and if anyone in this group is cut, I'd expect it to be Graham or Flannigan-Fowles. Curtis Robinson is another linebacker on the team at the moment, but I'd say he is probably the least likely to have his name penciled in the blank

So I'm going to go against the popular picks of Burks and Flannigan-Fowles and say Marcelino McCrary-Ball will be LB3 early on in 2023. But Winters will be the guy by late 2023.

Not including the QB position, what position group should we have the most confidence in, the least confidence in, and which one is the biggest unknown? - Jr49ers

Great question. Let me see if I can give a great answer. Since we can't use the quarterback position for any of these categories, I'm going to go with:

  • Most confident: Linebacker. Mainly because of Warner and Greenlaw, but also because I like the candidates for the number three spot. I could possibly be sold on the defensive line, if there was a little more clarity on the "non-Bosa" edge (more on that below). I also like the running back position and the wide receivers.

  • Least confident: Offensive line (specifically, tackle). What happens if Trent Williams goes down or Colton McKivitz struggles? Is Jaylon Moore the answer? Is it someone else? The offensive line seems like it's the unit with the least amount of quality depth. I'm a little nervous about how well this group can hold up, especially since they've shown that they don't play as well against really good defensive fronts. Then again, a lot of people were worried a year ago when the 49ers decided to move forward with three young, new starters in the interior of the offensive line, Aaron Banks (LG), Jake Brendel (C), and Spencer Burford (RG). That worked out. Maybe it will this time, as well.

  • Biggest unknown: I think it has to be the edge position, mainly because we don't know if Jackson will make that leap. And if he doesn't, who else will step up? Maybe it will be Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant, or Kerry Hyder, Jr. I am really intrigued by rookie Robert Beal, Jr. But again, the position opposite of Bosa is up in the air, and that makes it an unknown.

As this team ages, I see three positions needing the next guy to be on the roster and getting ready: FB, LT, and TE. Are any of these players on the current roster? - DoctorWDS

The 49ers have done a really good job of thinking ahead and planning for the future. But have they done so with these three positions?

Fullback: I mentioned Willis above because he's a tight end. But some see him as a possible replacement for Kyle Juszczyk at fullback. The 49ers also signed Jack Colletto, as a rookie free agent, in the offseason. Perhaps Willis or Colletto is the future at the position.

Left Tackle: This could be William's last season. When he retires, it will leave a humongous hole on the offensive line. I do not believe his replacement is currently on the roster. Not that you can replace someone like Trent Williams anyway. The 49ers will need to find a star at left tackle, especially with the youth and question marks along the rest of the offensive line.

Tight End: How long will George Kittle remain with the 49ers? Probably not too many more years. Perhaps Latu and/or Willis can fill that void, but neither will be the level of player Kittle has been in his time in San Francisco. I see both as more of a TE2 or TE3. So is the next TE1 currently on the team? I'd say he is not.

Let's hope the 49ers can find those guys, just like they found Williams, Juszczyk, and Kittle. That's all we have for this week. We'll be back either next week or the week after.
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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