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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As the San Francisco 49ers prepare to open the 2022 NFL season against the Chicago Bears on Sunday, coach Kyle Shanahan is well aware of the outside chatter about his unique quarterback situation.
Shanahan already had an idea of how people would react when the Niners and incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo agreed to a revised contract to keep Garoppolo as a backup to new starter Trey Lance.
And Shanahan is also well aware of how the drumbeat for a quarterback change will get louder if and when Lance struggles.
“We all know how that would go,” Shanahan said. “We understand that. The fact that he has a successful quarterback behind him, it’s obvious what that narrative is going to be and understandably so.”
Before finalizing the reworked contract with Garoppolo, Shanahan met with about 15 veteran players to tell them the plan to keep both quarterbacks and have an open discussion about how it would work.
Shanahan’s message to his team was to make sure they support Lance, just as they did Garoppolo when he was struggling.
“Our players also know Jimmy went through some tough times as well and they had his back regardless of whether they thought there was a better option,” Shanahan said. “You’ve got to realize when you’re struggling, those guys know it’s a lot harder to play well when nobody’s got your back. You’ve got to help guys through that. And I think we have those guys that can do it I think our guys did it for Jimmy when he was here even when he had some tough times and let him fight through it and I think our guys will same for Trey.
“I understand what people outside of our dressing room are going to say and they’re right in terms of human nature to do that. But it’s going to happen whether you’re not playing well.”
Lance will make his third NFL start on Sunday, but his first since being named to the role by Shanahan on July 26. On Wednesday, Shanahan expressed confidence in Lance, noting that he got “as many reps as he’s ever gotten before” after a full offseason program and training camp at the top of the depth chart.
When the Niners and Bears kick off on Sunday, Lance, 22 years and 125 days old, will become the youngest quarterback to start an opener for San Francisco since entering the NFL in 1950.
For his part, Lance said he feels like the chance to get back into regular-season form as the starter is a welcome adjustment because he hasn’t been a starting quarterback going into a full season since 2019 at North Dakota State.
“It’s definitely different,” Lance said. “Definitely a breath of fresh air, refreshing to game plan against someone, see someone else’s tape and learn some new things.”
One thing that won’t be on Lance’s mind as the season opens is the fact that he wasn’t named captain in his first year as a starter. The Niners named six players – tight end George Kittle, left tackle Trent Williams, end Nick Bosa, defensive lineman Arik Armstead, safety Jimmie Ward and linebacker Fred Warner – as captains on Wednesday.
According to Shanahan, Lance and wideout Deebo Samuel narrowly missed the cut at number seven and eight, respectively, as voted by their teammates.
“That’s my goal, but I don’t think you can look at any six of those guys and be like, ‘That guy’s a bozo,'” Lance said. “Those guys have all played football at a very, very high level level… I voted for every single one of those guys, so I think every single one of them deserves it. It’s definitely a goal for me to progress, but all those guys have proven that and that’s what this league is about.”
As for Garoppolo, his return to Chicago will present a full-circle moment. A native of Arlington Heights, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, Garoppolo made his first start with the Niners against the Bears at Soldier Field on December 3, 2017.
On Sunday, Garoppolo arrives in Chicago as Lance’s backup. He returned to practice last week after completing the necessary rehab on his surgically repaired right (throwing) shoulder.
Despite only having a few practices under his belt, Shanahan said Garoppolo will be ready to be the No. 2 behind Lance against the Bears.
“He’s looked good, just like Jimmy always has,” Shanahan said. “He throws the ball really well. It’s been good.”