— KNBR (@KNBR) May 15, 2021
You couldn’t ask for a lovelier day in Santa Clara. It was in the low 70s with a breeze, with truly pristine practice fields that got their first work in months. It’s the first time that the media has been able to witness practice at the team facility since the 49ers left for Arizona late last year.
And, due to a league announcement that came out just before minicamp opened to the media, any fully vaccinated members of the media (who are separated in a paint-drawn area along the sidelines) were not required to wear masks, nor were the coaching staff, which meant a gaiter-less Kyle Shanahan getting a good look at his new rookie quarterback, Trey Lance.
Before I say anything else about what I observed on Friday, let’s be abundantly clear; we are four months away from the start of the season.
So, yes, it’s exciting to see all the rookies and there absolutely is something to seeing those raw traits in person for the first time, but let’s have a little perspective. There is still a third of a full year to go before the season starts, and a quarter of a year before we get preseason action.
Trey Lance = fun to watch
But, it was our first look at Trey Lance in a 49ers uniform, on the field with a helmet, at least theoretically running the offense.
I wasn’t tracking every pass Lance threw in 7-on-7s, because, again, it was 7-on-7s with other rookies, and none of those players actually know the entire offense or defense yet. But for those of you who are understandably interested in putting a number to the performance, Lance was either 20-of-24 or 19-of-24, per Matt Maiocco and Eric Branch, respectively.
It doesn’t really matter what Lance’s completion stats were. What matters is that he didn’t look out of his element at all. He was active with quarterback coach Rich Scangarello in personal drills, working on the things that will be tuned and tuned and tuned until they’re right; footwork, eye positioning, arm angles, timing, etc.
When he did run the offense in 7-on-7’s, he was mostly impressive, especially in the last set, when he thew dimes in rapid succession; he was targeting the ball at catch points only available to receivers, with a tantalizing velocity that, with time, might be toned down a bit. There are certain throws he made that, when thrown by literally any other 49ers quarterback over the last few years, had a bit of an arc to them. He was throwing line drives.
Again, that’s maybe not the best thing for every throw, and he’ll have to work on his touch so as not to bean his receivers every time they run a curl route, but it’s another level with the velocity, especially on throws outside the hashes. My main takeaway: he’s damn fun to watch.
There were also times where he missed throws. Especially in those side sessions with Scangarello, when he was throwing to coaches, he had some fairly egregious overthrows on short passes.
Quite literally all of this is to be expected. Kyle Shanahan drafted Lance because he fell in love with his technical traits and raw talent, but especially his brain. He was actively surveying the field, and his timing, vision and base, were all impressive. That latter one was especially apparent. He lines himself up well and gives himself a solid base on his drops in a way that looks seamless. There’s a lot of polish in his delivery.
As for the other guys, Elijah Mitchell was the clear standout. We all knew how explosive he is, as a sub-4.4-second runner, but his route running (again, against other rookies), caught just about everyone’s attention. If a corner sits too low on him, he’s going to burn them time and time again on wheel routes, and if he gets outside them, I’m not really sure how you’d catch him. He’s fun, and so, too, is Trey Sermon, though Mitchell looked the more reliable pass catcher.
There are three linebackers all competing for what is likely one, or at most, two roster spots: Jonas Griffith, Justin Hilliard and Elijah Sullivan. Griffith was brought into camp last year and is a physical beast who was a casualty of injuries and inexperience. But they are three 24-year-old undrafted free agents who all have a very legitimate chance to make the roster. Griffith looked a little rough backpedaling but moves astonishingly well for a 6’4″, 250-pounder on anything in a 180 degree forward radius.
Talanoa Hufanga’s main concern is coverage, but he showed well playing man to man, with at least a couple of breakups and an interception, and has good short-area quickness. Deommodore Lenoir had the only interception of Trey Lance and closed well on the ball.
There were a handful of tryouts, highlighted by a seven-year veteran in Marqise Lee. He was one of five players attending rookie camp as a tryout. The other four were CB KiAnte Hardin, CB Adonis Alexander, S Blake Countess and TE Alex Ellis.