SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Trey Lance dropped back on successive plays and launched deep strikes to Ray-Ray McCloud and Jordan Matthews that showed off an element the San Francisco 49ers hope to add to their offense this season.
With Jimmy Garoppolo far away rehabilitating an injured shoulder before a likely trade or release this summer, Lance ended the team’s minicamp fully entrenched as the Niners starting quarterback based on his play and leadership this spring.
“I feel like Trey has done a really good job in really taking on all the different parts of being QB1,” fullback Kyle Juszczyk said. “I feel like I’ve seen improvement on the field as far as his performance. We’ve seen a lot of big plays out there. As a leader I just feel like he’s stepped up. He’s just a very natural leader, a guy that people gravitate towards. It’s all been good so far.”
This is what the 49ers were hoping to get out of Lance when they traded three first-round picks to take him third overall in the 2021 draft despite only one season as a starter at lower-level North Dakota State.
After spending his rookie season learning behind Garoppolo and making only two starts, Lance has taken ownership of the offense this offseason and the Niners hope that carries over into strong play when the season starts in three months.
“I was in a little bit of a weird spot last year,” Lance said. “I wasn’t necessarily playing, so I was in a weird spot I felt like last year, but that’s how it goes. That was the situation I was in. I tried to embrace my role and make the most out of it.”
Lance’s teammates have seen a marked difference in his demeanor this offseason as he has taken on the leadership role that comes with the territory for a starting quarterback in the NFL.
Despite being only 22 years old, has won over his older and more accomplished teammates.
“I think he carries himself extremely well, which is why he’s here, why everybody is so high on him,” All-Pro left tackle Trent Williams said. “We all know his attributes as a quarterback. But I think the way he carries himself, the way he holds his head, the way nothing ever rattles him, I think that’s his key feature. I think that will take him a long way.”
Lance’s rookie season was impacted by a finger injury in the final exhibition game against the Raiders that didn’t fully heal until the offseason.
He was used in a situational role a few times early in the season and made two starts when Garoppolo was hurt, struggling at times in a Week 5 loss at Arizona and showing some improvement in a Week 17 win over Houston.
For the season, he completed 41 of 71 passes for 603 yards, five TDs and two interceptions, while also running for 168 yards and a score.
Lance spent the early part of the offseason working with his trainers tweaking his mechanics, although Lance said most of the changes were minor.
“I know everybody talks about the throwing motion and the slow-mo videos and all that, but it wasn’t as much as you guys think,” Lance said. “I know everyone has their opinion on it. But for me, it’s about getting the ball out accurately. It’s a lot different working away from the building because you’re working primarily as a thrower and not necessarily as a quarterback.”
Coach Kyle Shanahan said the minor work on mechanics is something all the great quarterbacks do on their own during the offseason.
But he’s been more focused on how Lance has improved his approach and decision-making on the practice field.
“When they’re with us, it’s about playing the game,” Shanahan said. “It’s about how to get the ball out on time, how to not take a sack, how to move coverages, where to look with your eyes, things like that. But those are things real detailed quarterbacks never stop doing.”