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SANTA CLARA, California – The San Francisco 49ers put the finishing touches on their preseason and training camp on Sunday with their show final.
The past month plus has included plenty of intrigue in the Bay Area, mostly centered on Niner’s fascinating quarterback dynamics. Seated Jimmy Garoppolo and rookie Trey Lance competed “their ass”, according to coach Kyle Shanahan.
As we head toward the Sept. 12 opening against the Detroit Lions, let’s answer some pressing questions about how everything has gone so far, what we know, what we think we know, and what the future holds for the 49ers at quarterback .
How did the 49ers use Garoppolo and Lance in camp and pre-season?
Pretty much exactly how Shanahan said they would do it at the start of camp. Garoppolo got the vast majority of the work with starters, while Lance worked with the backups. In the first weeks of camp, Lance occasionally got rep with the starting offensive, but only for five snaps, all of which were designed to run games installed in the offensive specifically for Lance. That changed over the last week-plus as Lance worked with starters in specialized situations, starting with an eight-game run in a joint training session with the Chargers and then splitting reps with Garoppolo with the starting offensive in move-ball periods and red zone work. Lance also had some time with the starting offensive in preseason games, especially the final against the Las Vegas Raiders.
How did Garoppolo and Lance fare?
Both quarterbacks had their share of ups and downs throughout the camp.
Garoppolo got off to a good start, hit some hard spots and then often found himself on mini hot streaks followed by some fights. Eavesdropping remained a problem as Garoppolo threw nine in the 19 methods open to the media. But he also had moments where he was locked inside and quickly distributed the ball across the field, such as Aug. 16 training sessions as he completed his last 10 assists, including a touchdown to receiver Mohamed Sanu during a move-ball period.
Lance did not have as many turnovers and threw only three practice interceptions, but he had some of the accuracy issues that the evaluators saw on his North Dakota State tape. When he missed, he often missed high, which increased the chances of a turnover, especially when throwing over the middle. Lance was also under a lot of pressure, which sometimes made it difficult to read about his progress. Shanahan said some of it was protection related and some of it was on Lance to get the ball out faster. Still, Lance excelled in red zone drills, throwing eight touchdowns and running for at least three more. He showed a willingness to push the ball down the field, something he did with more success and regularity than Garoppolo.
The three preseason games did not move the needle much. Garoppolo was 10-of-16 in 105 yards with an interception and a roaring touchdown. Lance played a lot more and finished 19-of-41 in 276 yards with three touchdowns, one interception and an urgent score.
Who starts with quarterback in week 1?
Shanahan has so far rejected several options to make it official, but all signs still point to Garoppolo with Lance working situationally and preventing some sort of injury-driven change in the situation.
Why has Shanahan been hesitant to announce an appetizer?
To be honest, he does not have much reason to tilt his hand. Shanahan made it clear before the camp started that it would be difficult for Lance to surpass Garoppolo. Lance got more work done with starters, leaving some wondering if it had turned into more competition than Shanahan let go. While it’s fair to see it that way, the bigger reason has been that Shanahan clearly plans to use Garoppolo and Lance together in real games.
So how exactly does a QB tandem work?
Shanahan has not explicitly stated what it will look like and how often Lance will rotate in, but he has been quite clear with the general overview. He cited what the New Orleans Saints did with Drew Brees and Taysom Hill as a plan. Clearly, Lance is a more polished passer, leaving Shanahan with more room for creativity in the passing game. The idea of rotating quarterbacks to take advantage of Lance’s running ability and arm strength seems like a good springboard.
If nothing else, it gives opponents a lot to consider when constructing a game plan.
“When you get a quarterback who has a different skillset than your starter, whether they’re ready to make an entire game … I know it can really affect people,” Shanahan said. “You have to prepare a lot for those things. Other defenses can’t just go out and play against something you haven’t prepared for.”
How long before Lance becomes the starter?
Since there is no way to predict health issues, we can not really use it as a basis for answering this question, except to note that Garoppolo has only started more than five consecutive matches once in his career (2019) . From a schedule standpoint, the Niners have two winable internationals to open the season (in Detroit and Philadelphia) before things get interesting against Green Bay, Seattle, Arizona, Indianapolis, Chicago, Arizona again and the Los Angeles Rams.
Starting Garoppolo and playing Lance situationally gives Lance the opportunity to have a much-needed experience, while giving a bite-sized litmus test on his state of readiness. If Lance can overlook these possibilities, it would go a long way to putting pressure on Garoppolo. Much of this question will depend on how the team is doing. As long as the Niners win and Garoppolo does well, there is little reason to believe Shanahan will deviate from the current plan.