Throughout the offseason, and in San Francisco 49ers training-camp practices open to the public, Trey Lance has been a conundrum. At times, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 draft has looked like a sharp, poised passer. In other instances, it appears that getting the ball from Point A to Point B is a severe challenge for the former North Dakota State star.
The truth will likely end up being somewhere in between, but the Niners are in a strange position. After coming painfully close to reaching a second Super Bowl in three seasons last January, San Francisco essentially ended the Jimmy Garoppolo era (the veteran quarterback will likely be traded or released before the start of the regular season) and went all-in with Lance, for whom they packaged three first-round picks to get in position to draft.
It’s Lance's time, and they have to find out if he can fulfill his promise, growing pains and all. Yet Kyle Shanahan’s talented team is built to win now, and stars such as George Kittle, Trent Williams, Deebo Samuel, Nick Bosa and Fred Warner will have to do a whole lot of compensating as Lance learns on the fly.
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Most teams with second-year quarterbacks would love to have the 49ers’ “problems.” Jacksonville Jaguars starter Trevor Lawrence, the No. 1 overall pick in 2021, is still trying to shake off the scars of the Urban Meyer Debacle. No. 2 pick Zach Wilson, currently sidelined by a knee injury (meaning Joe Flacco may begin the season as the New York Jets’ starter), figures to be the subject of “mom jokes” from New York tabloids unless and until he proves he belongs.
Meanwhile, 2021 11th overall pick Justin Fields is adjusting to a new coaching staff for a Chicago Bears regime that has already pissed off its best player, linebacker Roquan Smith. The Houston Texans say they are high on starter Davis Mills, a third-round selection in 2021, and that’s cool — except for the fact that they are a dysfunctional organization whose roster doesn’t include many accomplished players. So, good luck with that.
And what of Mac Jones, the shining star of last year’s quarterback class during his rookie season? The No. 15 overall selection — like the New England Patriots offense as a whole — has had a rocky preseason as New England deals with the departure of Josh McDaniels, Bill Belichick’s longtime offensive coordinator.
Maybe Belichick’s genius is such that those of us who are mere mortals can’t possibly grasp it, but his current plan — splitting nominal OC duties between former Patriots defensive coordinator (and absurdly overmatched ex-Lions head coach) Matt Patricia and former Pats special teams coordinator (and absurdly overmatched ex-Giants head coach) Joe Judge — seems specious at best. Perhaps Judge will roll out that sweet third-and-long quarterback sneak from his own territory that provided so much comedy at the end of his Giants tenure last January.
Look, I’m not judging Judge, or Patricia, or Belichick. Well, actually, I am. The offense has been a fiasco throughout the preseason and in joint workouts this week with McDaniels’ Las Vegas Raiders. Belichick has proven a lot of people wrong before, myself included, and he’s a deceptively shrewd offensive strategist who’ll surely play a large role in the play-calling process.
At this point, however, it sure looks like Jones will need all the help he can get.