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Trey Lance does good things, then bad things, and other notes from 49ers’ preseason opener



Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Well, we got it, finally. Trey Lance in an NFL game.

For a while, it was glorious. Then things deteriorated; as the second-team offensive line got battered and Lance found himself under near constant pressure, the offense felt disjointed. Some of this was Lance’s fault, some wasn’t.

Let’s start with the good, because it sure as hell started good. Lance opened the day rolling out to his right and found Brandon Aiyuk for what should’ve been a guaranteed first down and more. That’s exactly what Aiyuk was thinking, too, because he had already turned his head upfield looking for that YAC yardage, and dropped the ball.

Poor receiving was a theme on the night. Lance was let down by drops from River Cracraft, and two poor plays from Richie James Jr., who dropped one absolute dime for a would-be first down, and just whiffed on another pass over the middle, when it looked like he failed to fight off the turf monster (we’re on grass, so you figure that one out).

James Jr. has done nothing in this camp to suggest he should make the team, other than being the de facto returner, which is to say, he’s not great at that, either.

Back to Lance; he did this.

Not to say nothing else matters, because that’s not, strictly speaking, true. But it’s kind of hard to get riled up about anything else that went wrong with his day when he connected with Trent Sherfield on this play. It was a ball which only two players in this game could have completed, and the other guy plays for the Kansas City Chiefs.

He should’ve finished 8-of-14 on the day, and had more attempts if not for the receiving letdowns, but he also had some fairly egregious mistakes.

DeAndre Baker — yeah, the “2019 Giants first-rounder DeAndre Baker who was charged with four counts of robbery with a firearm, then had all charges dropped,” who the Chiefs scooped up for free — was a problem for Lance, and nearly picked him off. He did the same thing Emmanuel Moseley did a couple practices ago to Jimmy Garoppolo, sitting down in the flat, and then jumping an out route.

Baker couldn’t come up with it, nearly punishing Lance. On the next play, Lance was jittery with his feet, and missed Charlie Woerner short and in front of him, before taking a sack, which was good for his worst stretch of the night.

The next set was rough, too. Aaron Banks got absolutely whooped — he had a brutal night capped off and ended by a shoulder injury which knocked him out of the game — and Lance was strip-sacked, but recovered it. He then threw another near-interception towards Jauan Jennings over the middle; he stared down Jennings egregiously, and Rashad Fenton nearly picked it off.

There were a few other disjointed, ugly plays, like when he overthrew Travis Benjamin on a comeback to the sideline. It looked like he expected Benjamin to come back sooner, and given Lance’s final play of the day, you can maybe give him the benefit of the doubt. On that final play, he tried to hit Benjamin on a slant over the middle, and Benjamin got sonned by Baker, who crashed down to prevent the catch. It wasn’t a strong effort by Benjamin, who’s looking awfully cuttable.

On the whole, it was a night when Lance absolutely flashed his potential, but started to look jittery under pressure. He was sacked four times, and on one play, tried to do too much, taking an unnecessary hit on an incompletion (dropped by Cracraft).

The tough part about the evaluation is that Lance was almost solely required to stand in the pocket. There were no zone reads and very few designed bootlegs or other passes on the move. It seemed intentional by Shanahan; maybe keep some of his cards close to the vest and try to protect Lance from himself a little bit.

It was an entertaining night when Lance certainly looked like he was playing in his first career game. He didn’t look out of his depth, but clearly has a ways to go. Jimmy Garoppolo — who started, by the way, and was 3-of-3 for 26 yards — is looking a bit likelier to hold onto his starting job for the season opener. The two joint practices in Los Angeles, and the ensuing two preseason games, though, will be a bit more meaningful than this one — which was sure to be a bit nervy — in figuring out where Lance is in his development.

As for everything else? Well, here’s a bulletpoint summary of some of the more notable goings-on:

  • A massive number of players were not active: Fred Warner, Jason Verrett, Jimmie Ward, Emmanuel Moseley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Alex Mack, Trent Williams, George Kittle, Raheem Mostert, Mohamed Sanu, Kyle Juszczyk, Arik Armstead, Dee Ford, Nick Bosa, D.J. Jones, Javon Kinlaw, Jalen Hurd, MyCole Pruitt, Azeez Al-Shaair, Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles, Jaquiski Tartt, Samson Ebukam, Elijah Mitchell, K’Waun Williams
  • The starting offensive line featured Mike McGlinchey, Daniel Brunskill and Laken Tomlinson. That’s when Lance thrived and looked a hell of a lot more comfortable. That second-team offensive line remained as wretched as it has been throughout training camp. Even Brunskill got taken to task, though — granted, by Chris Jones — for Lance’s first sack. That second group is not confidence inspiring.
  • The rookie defensive backs: Deommodore Lenoir surprisingly got the start over Ambry Thomas, and had the better night, despite having a worse camp thus far. Lenoir had at least two solid coverage plays on deep balls, going stride for stride without drawing a flag, and came up with his first interception on a bad drop. Thomas allowed a few more catches, but kept everything in front of him. And Talanoa Hufanga had a fantastic day, coming up with four tackles split evenly between special teams and defense.
  • Jonas Griffith, Fred Warner backup?: Dre Greenlaw started this game, but it was Jonas Griffith who started at middle linebacker. It was a clear effort to get Griffith reps at the MIKE linebacker spot, and he excelled. He had four tackles on the day and one near-interception, and in a very Warner-esque fashion. He flashed an A-gap blitz, then snuck back into coverage and nearly picked off Chad Henne. He was a half step late and broke up the pass, but was en route for a pick-six if he had snagged it.
  • Nsimba Webster making his case? We’re really getting into the weeds here, but as stated above, James Jr. hasn’t impressed in the slightest. I’ve been giving him the edge to make the team as the 49ers’ designated returner, and given his experience in the offense, but if they’re going to keep a returner/gadget player as their fifth wide receiver, maybe it should be Nsimba Webster. Webster had a 43-yard kickoff return, and later that drive, pulled off an end-around reception for 12 yards. He also caught a late slant in tight coverage for six yards. Webster did have one absolutely egregious error, though, trying to run hard after a kickoff. He bobbled it, fumbled, and got the 49ers stuck at their own one-yard line. But Webster did three positive things and one very negative thing. James Jr. did two negative things, and never brought the ball close to the 25-yard line on his kickoff returns. You do the math.
  • I don’t understand Jauan Jennings, but he’s good: By all accounts, Jauan Jennings is not a great athlete, at least by NFL standards. But the kid is a gamer. He just seems to make plays everywhere around the field. He had two “rushes” on screen passes for 26 yards and one reception for 26 yards. Unless Jalen Hurd blows him away, I have him making the team.
  • Keep JaMycal Hasty on the team: It was tough sledding for every running back besides JaMycal Hasty. The offensive line couldn’t seem to get much going in the run game. Trey Sermon had nine carries for 29 yards and Wayne Gallman had six for 21 yards. But there’s a real explosiveness to Hasty’s game. He runs without fear, and that can sometimes be a problem, like when he had a fumble that the Chiefs recovered. But he made up for it elsewhere, taking 10 carries for 63 yards and a touchdown. He also caught a late pass for five yards. I have a gut feeling the 49ers will try and keep Gallman and sneak Hasty to the practice squad, but that seems like it would be a mistake.

Oh, also, the 49ers lost 19-16. An absolutely gut-wrenching result which no one will get over any time soon.