The Mercury News

Teammates are calling Lance ‘special,’ with ‘confident swag’

- By Cam Inman cinman@bayareanew­

SANTACLARA>> Trey Lance looked just like a rookie Wednesday, a true rarity in his debut 49ers training camp.

There he was, trudging toward the locker room with two helmets in each hand, plus veterans’ shoulder pads. It’s a rookie ritual at NFL camps everywhere.

Only the 49ers, however, have Lance. That’s looking really smart of them. And they’re buying into the hype that’s growing daily about the No. 3 overall draft pick.

Lance gives off no vibes of entitlemen­t. Carrying those helmets and shoulder pads off the field exhibited his humility.

“Just another day in the life,” Lance said to an observer as he smiled and headed for the locker room.

Lance is stacking near-perfect practices. After completing 14 of 15 passes and running so smooth in Tuesday’s debut in full pads, Wednesday’s encore (7-of-8 passing, three runs) was equally inspiring, and not just to reporters observing the bloom of a quarterbac­k controvers­y.

“Everybody’s eyes are locked on him. He’s special,” defensive tackle D.J. Jones said.

“There’s an element of confidence that’s unique,” offensive coordinato­r Mike McDaniel said. “I wouldn’t say he’s loud or boisterous. There’s a calm, confident swag that really appeals to players.”

Lance is still restricted to second-team reps, against reserve defenders, but the 49ers are mixing in their best receivers for him to target. George Kittle caught a 45yard throw Lance casually chucked downfield one day after a 50-yard spiral found Trent Sherfield. Both completion­s seized on mismatches with linebacker Jonas Griffith.

“He’s got a great touch with those downfield passes,” Kittle said. “You’ve just got to throw it out there. I do play tight end but I feel I’m decently fast.”

Lance did exactly that on his lone incomplete pass in eight attempts in fullteam drills Wednesday, throwing a 40yard pass toward Kittle, who was tightly covered by safety Talanoa Hufanga. The ball fell to the ground alongside them by the right sideline.

“He’s just gaining confidence in his abilities,” Kittle said. “He’s obviously still a rookie. There’s timing things he needs to figure out, but he’s definitely making progress. That’s all you want to see from everybody on the field, especially a No. 3 draft pick.”

That’s about as glowing a recommenda­tion as Kittle can give without breaching his bond with Jimmy Garoppolo, who had a 6-of-11 passing day that’s been about his standard through seven practices.

Coach Kyle Shanahan did not speak to reporters Wednesday but has been steadfast that Lance is not ready to cut into Garoppolo’s first-team reps and will seize the starting role only if he proves ready. The regular-season opener is Sept. 12 at Detroit.

Contrary to general manager John Lynch’s claim on a podcast with ESPN’s

Adam Schefter, Garoppolo isn’t looking at his best (think New Orleans, 2019). Nor his worst (think 2020 post-ankle injury).

Garoppolo is still looking like a quarterbac­k in better command of a complex offense, one who remains a vocal leader on the field, one who looks like he’s enjoying himself when not throwing the occasional stinker pass, and one who knows his successor is lurking in a shrinking shadow.

One snap after running on a zone-read play, Lance rolled left and looked ready to run again, unplanned. However, Brandon Aiyuk found an open spot in the defense, Lance spotted him and looked away to keep Aiyuk open, then rifled a 10-yard completion to him.

“Good throw, rook,” one of the pursuing defenders said to Lance.

Count defensive coordinato­r DeMeco Ryans among the growing admirers, saying: “He can hit every route. It’s been fun to watch him work and he’s getting better every day.”

Ryans loves how Lance is “stressing out” his second-string defenders, including rookie cornerback­s Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir, who could be thrust into key duty the way the depth chart sits.

Lance may be new here, too, but he’s helping tutor those in need, with McDaniels noting: “He’s comfortabl­e in his own skin and is getting to the point he can correct other players.”

McDaniel raved at Lance’s improved footwork from the 40-day break before camp, something coaches stressed for him to work on so he could focus on the defensive formations and reads once practice hit full throttle, as it is now.

Lance was inserted into a first-team rep Tuesday for a specialize­d running play, just as he was Wednesday on a third-team rep. He’s looking better than any second-string quarterbac­k Shanahan has ever had in five years, that’s for sure.

Said Kittle: “He’s got confidence because he’s a hell of a football player. He studies his (butt) off. He studies really hard then comes in and gets extra work, whether it’s studying the playbook or the rookies have extra film. He’s in there with Kyle all the time.”

Cornerback changes

Tim Harris Jr. opened camp with his biggest opportunit­y on the 49ers — first-string cornerback. A week later, he’s been waived after a groin injury, presumably clearing his familiar path back to injured reserve today.

Harris was a 2019 sixth-round draft pick whose injury history is troubling. A groin injury also kept him out his rookie season. He spent most of last season on the practice squad, though he had a three-game stint on injured reserve with a calf issue and he played 18 total snaps all on special teams in two December games.

With Harris gone and Dontae Johnson (foot) ailing, the 49ers signed journeyman B.W. Webb, who entered the NFL as a 2013 fourth-round pick by the Dallas Cowboys. Webb gave up a couple completion­s in his debut Wednesday.

 ?? KARL MONDON — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER ?? The 49ers’ James Burgess Jr. works in a drill to fight off blocks at training camp in Santa Clara on Wednesday. Rookie QB Trey Lance remains the top subject of talk at camp.
KARL MONDON — STAFF PHOTOGRAPH­ER The 49ers’ James Burgess Jr. works in a drill to fight off blocks at training camp in Santa Clara on Wednesday. Rookie QB Trey Lance remains the top subject of talk at camp.

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