The Mercury News
Kurtenbach: No 49ers’ QB controversy.
49ers don’t have a QB controversy; Lance gives them better chance to win
Trey Lance’s ascension to the 49ers’ starting quarterback role has always been inevitable. San Francisco didn’t trade three first-round picks to select their backup quarterback of the future.
But in training camp, it appears as if Lance’s time as the 49ers’ starting quarterback is, indeed, imminent.
Niners head coach Kyle Shanahan said at the beginning of camp that there was no competition between Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo.
He’s been right: Lance has been the far better quarterback. It’s obvious to anyone who has watched.
There’s a long way to go before the 2021 NFL regular season starts, but if the 49ers rookie quarterback remains on the same path, it’ll be difficult to not make Lance the Week 1 starter.
That, of course, is not Shanahan’s plan. He has a starting quarterback — Garoppolo. And Garoppolo hasn’t done anything to disqualify himself from holding his current position. He’s looked good in camp.
But he hasn’t looked nearly as good as Lance.
The rookie quarterback from North Dakota State can do things that Garoppolo shouldn’t even attempt. Once a practice, at least, Lance makes a jaw-dropping play.
Tuesday, in the 49ers’ first padded practice, that play was Lance stepping up into the pocket, then rolling left and throwing it across his body — on a rope — into the pocket of a crossing and fairly covered Trent Sherfield 50 yards downfield.
It was the kind of throw that you see
completed only against air in pro days — not in a competitive practice. It was the kind of throw that Garoppolo never has and never will make.
Shanahan has only one vague parameter for choosing a starting quarterback: he has to “give his team the best chance to win.”
And if Lance keeps playing the way he’s played at the start of camp for the next few weeks — if we see this kind of player in the preseason games, too — I don’t know how Shanahan can say, with a straight face, that Garoppolo gives his team the best chance to win ahead of the season’s first game in Detroit.
The two quarterbacks are in entirely different classes right now. Garoppolo might be the starter, running with the ones, but he and Lance are running different offenses. I don’t think Lance is getting the remedial stuff, either. On top of the standard plays every 49ers quarterback runs, Lance also has read-option and deep-ball plays added to his plate.
And right now, he’s executing at a higher level, too.
Lance has proved that he can help the
49ers offense move the ball better than Garoppolo in two ways.
The first is with his feet. Shanahan and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel have an entirely different run game for Lance — one that includes more read options. Lance is thriving. He might keep the ball too often for my liking — we’ll see if that’s still the case when defenders can actually hit him — but he’s more dynamic in the open field than I gave him credit for coming out of NDSU.
The second way Lance is winning is with the deep ball. To put it simply, he can throw one — a pretty one with a tight spiral and elite catchability — whereas Garoppolo cannot even get his wobblers that far down the field. The ability to push the ball 60 yards downfield opens up even more of the Shanahan playbook. It’s exciting.
Of course, those are just additives. Bonus points. The foundations of quarterbacking are short and intermediate passes, reading the defense and delivering the ball on time and on target. It’s not like Tom Brady or Joe Montana had massive arms or the ability to run past a defense.
And again, Garoppolo — whose whole argument for starting is incumbency and theoretical competency in the foundational aspects of the position — has done
nothing to disqualify himself in camp. He’s looked crisp and in control.
But it’s hard to care about that when Lance is breaking off 30-yard runs and throwing deep dimes. Especially when Lance seems to have a full grasp of everything essential in the 49ers offense.
We don’t get to go behind the scenes and into the quarterback room — we’re not even allowed inside for press conferences anymore — so it’s impossible to say if Lance is truly in command of the 49ers offense from the academic standpoint. Perhaps he’s drowning back in those meeting rooms.
But if he’s drowning, he has a funny way of showing it.
From what I’ve seen on the practice field, he doesn’t seem challenged by what Shanahan and his staff are throwing at him. He’s completing nearly every short and intermediate pass — like Garoppolo — and provides all those additional ways to win.
There’s also the possibility that Lance will hit a wall with the offense in the coming days and weeks. The Niners are still installing plays, and Garoppolo has years of experience not just in the league but in Shanahan’s offense. The possibility remains that the veteran could separate himself here in the next stage of camp.
But right now, the kid is the better
quarterback. It’s not even much of a debate. And I imagine in a few weeks, that’ll still be the case. I’ll keep you posted, though.
In the meantime, what I do know is that Shanahan will continue to downplay the rookie’s successes while praising Garoppolo (who, for a third time, deserves praise — he’s doing well!).
There’s no reason for the head coach to “crown” Lance after a little more than a week — that’s my job. And there’s no reason to denigrate Garoppolo, either – No. 10 has been nothing but professional amid a not-so-awesome situation for him.
It’s also good business for Shanahan. The Niners stand a chance to recoup some of the draft capital lost in the Lance trade if another team wants Jimmy G before the season starts. Remember, the Niners and Colts have struck a big deal once before (See: DeForest Buckner).
But at some point, push is going to come to shove. Shanahan will have to make a call on who gives the Niners the best chance to win their first game of the season.
If Lance keeps doing what he’s been doing and is not selected, Shanahan will need to provide a comprehensive explanation as to why.