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Steve Young assesses Trey Lance’s standing with 49ers, concerns over processing



© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Lance’s standing with the 49ers is uncertain. The former No. 3 overall pick has gone from hopeful franchise and starting quarterback to the team’s potential third-stringer.

His performance in the preseason opener was uneven, and has begged questions about what his future looks like. Are people overreacting? Should the 49ers trade him?

Steve Young joined Tolbert and Copes on Wednesday for the first time this year to attempt to answer some of those questions, bringing insight into the situation.

Before getting into the nitty gritty, Young said he’s proud of Lance. He credited him for his humility and working on things that he’s struggled with, saying he’s a better quarterback than he’s ever been at this point. But he thinks the margins have gotten finer and he’s trying to be a perfectionist:

He’s gotten better. He is a better player after this offseason.

And I don’t know that he’s not seeing it. I think what’s happened is he’s now squeezed, where every throw is a referendum on whether he’s any good or not. Because he doesn’t have a lot of college or even pro money in the bank, just that the ability to kind of go out and play and show people what I could do. And so there’s all this expectation and aspiration and fear and anxiety on every throw.

And now Brock is — Kyle said Brock’s the guy, and now Sam Darnold comes in and I mean, just listen to Kyle. Kyle loves Sam. So now, Tray’s in the middle, where every throw is critical.

I think I’ve been there where every time I go out for a series, something great has gonna happen. And all of a sudden, you know, you’re not free. You’re not relaxed. You’re pressing and you’re pressing every throw, and all of a sudden, you’re late for a throw and then you’ll get sacked and you go down and you’re like holy crap, how many bad things can happen? So you get into a bad spot.

You know he’s competent. And I really believe if Brock wasn’t there, Trey would start. If Sam Danold hadn’t come and proven whatever Kyle has seen that he’s so excited about that he would be number two and develop. But now Trey’s in a spot where he has to go out every practice and try to prove that he’s worth hanging in there with and it’s a tough spot to be in.

Young disagreed with the assessment that Lance can’t process the game well. He described him as a “good to very good processor.”

But he thinks he’s suffering from a similar fate as Carson Wentz and Mitch Trubisky, both of whom, he believes, got caught up in perfectionism.

We may eventually see enough evidence to describe Lance as a poor processor, but Young doesn’t believe that to be the case.

“Five years from now, we might say, ‘You know what, Trey never saw what he needed to see.’ But I felt good about his processing power when he came out of school and especially in the offseason, that first offseason, watching him process,” Young said. “I’m like, he can process. But I think the situation has gotten to where there has been this perfectionism mindset that’s never going to work and then now also the easy throws, a little swing pass.

“People say, ‘Well, he can’t throw those swing passes.’

“Well come on. I think you’re just in your head so much because you want to be perfect. I’m trying to win a spot that’s not available. I’m trying to survive. And I think it just it causes a lot of emotional grief.”

But Lance’s perfectionism and not quite getting it right has left a perception, Young believes, that will be hard to shake in the locker room:

He’s left a sense that he’s not ready. He’s left doubts and fears and coaches and players don’t — that’s not the place you want to be in the NFL…

You can smell it when you interview other players and you can smell when the coach speaks about it, like those guys are in there daily, hours and hours together. And they sense what a guy’s got going for him. And right now, it feels like those guys are telling you that it’s not happening yet.

Can Lance change that perception?

Possibly. But he’s in a rough situation as things stand.

“And so how do you make it happen? How do you decide, I’m gonna change their minds?” Young said.

“Well, the only way you can do it is on the field. And so a game like last week, when it’s kind of a big moment, you can’t have at the end of it, decent stats, but people say well — it’s the force again. It’s something you can’t explain. You wanted to say, does he have the force? And I think what’s happening is the people who are deciding these things, they’re saying, ‘I’m not sure he does.’ And that’s the jam that he’s in. It’s to prove the unprovable.”

For Lance to succeed, he needs reps. But he’s only got two preseason games left, and won’t be getting reps, barring injury, in the regular season.

It’s a tricky predicament for a once-promising player who’s trajectory has derailed, muddied by injuries and circumstance.

Listen to the full interview above. You can listen to every KNBR interview on our podcast page at knbr.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Catch Tolbert & Copes weekdays from 2 p.m. – 6 p.m. on KNBR 104.5 / 680 and streaming live on KNBR.com.