Photo Credit: Chris Mezzavilla
Football! It’s back! For real! (Sort of).
On Saturday, we’ll see the 49ers play football against another team, the Kansas City Chiefs. It will be our first look at Trey Lance in full contact. For as much as we can make out of practices, these three preseason games will be monumental in terms of assessing where Lance is at in his development.
As a mobile quarterback, it’s especially important. Lance hasn’t had to avoid contact so far, with quarterbacks being completely off-limits to defensive players. Lance will run the zone read this season, and in college, he took a lot of hits, often lowering his shoulder against linebackers and meeting them at full speed.
Asked about the need to protect himself, Shanahan referenced that, saying, essentially, Lance isn’t in the Missouri Valley Conference anymore. He said he mentions protecting himself “every time” Lance runs. The 49ers don’t practice sliding or diving in practice to avoid injury, so Saturday will be the first time Lance can prove (or not) that he can protect himself in a league that’s not too kind to quarterbacks with a penchant for staying in bounds.
“Every time that you evaluate a run and where you get to, you always talk about, alright, ‘How would you protect yourself here? How are you going down? Are you going for more? Are you sliding? Are you going to head first, are you stepping out of bounds?” Shanahan said. “That’s something that we’re all going to see in the game. Trey says the right things. He’s a pretty good runner, he’s pretty competitive. So I hope he takes my word for it. Sometimes those guys don’t believe how hard people hit and then they get it a couple times in the NFL, and then they’re like, “Ok, now I know what you’re talking about.”
The plan, as Shanahan laid out on KNBR and further clarified after Thursday’s practice, is to have Jimmy Garoppolo run the first series of the game, then come out. He may run a second series if the first doesn’t go well; the 49ers ran the exact series of plays they’ll run with the first team in practice. We can’t describe those plays, but it’s fair to say you’ll see Garoppolo throw the ball.
After that, Shanahan said he wants to get Lance around 30 reps, all of which will be with the second team. The plan is for him to finish out the first half; if he doesn’t hit his rep count, he’ll play the first series of the second half.
There will be a number of players not playing on Saturday, including, but not limited to Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead and Jalen Hurd. Both K’Waun Williams and Arden Key were absent from practice with hip and thigh contusions, respectively, and would seem to be doubtful for Saturday’s game. Javon Kinlaw, who didn’t practice, might be in that category, too, and all of Azeez Al-Shaair, MyCole Pruitt, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles and Samson Ebukam will not play as they work their way back.
But while Lance won’t get first-team reps, he’ll be reading a real-life opposing defense. Shanahan said that he’s in the same boat as everyone who’s been following Lance.
“I’m just excited to see him play, like everyone else is,” Shanahan said. “The reality of it is, it’s an experience for them. I think Trey’s going to make the team, so he doesn’t have to go our there and freak out about that, but he knows a lot of eyes will be on him and sometimes those guys want to go out there and make some plays and show everyone what to be excited about. I just always try to tell them, ‘It’s just like practice, except they can hit you up, so just calm down and just do your job like we try to do out here every day.’ Because that’s what quarterbacking is going to be every single day of your life.”
What Shanahan said he wants to see specifically from Lance is to do, well, fundamental quarterback things.
“I want to see him take command of the huddle,” Shanahan said. “There actually will be a play clock out there, just being aware of that. Sometimes you get comfortable when you miss a play call or something we can always re-huddle and I’ll give it to you again [in practice]. But I’m not gonna be able to talk after 15 seconds. I’m just gonna be silent — and what are we going to do? And how quick to we get up to the line and execute. It’s also tough when you’re playing with a lot of guys where it’s their first time too.”
Shanahan said he expects mistakes, but that he views that positively; he’d rather get those errors out of the way in these preseason games now, rather “than when the games count.”