Preseason games typically mean little, although the 49ers will look to maximize this year’s campaign because of rookie quarterback Trey Lance.
The San Francisco 49ers‘ 2021 preseason campaign will mean a little more than usual this year.
It’s not just the fact no NFL teams partook in these seemingly meaningless exhibition bouts in 2020 because of the pandemic. While the general consensus is the lack of games forced both rust and increased injuries early last season, there’s another major reason why head coach Kyle Shanahan and the Niners will want to take this year’s three-game preseason slate much more seriously.
Rookie quarterback Trey Lance.
Aside from the obvious fact fans will be able to see Lance take reps in the red and gold against other-team opponents for the first time, there are plenty of practical reasons why giving the former North Dakota State signal-caller a lot of field time will be vital.
Lance was widely viewed as the rawest of the top five quarterbacks available in this year’s NFL Draft, namely stemming from the reality he played just one full season, 2019, at North Dakota State and saw just one game of action in 2020 before COVID-19 shut down whatever follow-up campaign to the previous year he was looking to have.
As such, the No. 3 overall pick from this year’s draft has just 19 games to his stat sheet with a mere 318 pass attempts. In contrast, Chicago Bears rookie quarterback Justin Fields, whom many thought San Francisco would target in the draft, played in 34 games with both the Buckeyes and at Georgia before transferring, tossing a net 423 pass attempts during that three-year span.
And against a much higher level of competition, too.
Why preseason will be vital for Trey Lance, 49ers
The 49ers don’t need to give their current starting quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, too many preseason reps. Perhaps an opening drive in the Niners’ preseason Week 1 bout against the Kansas City Chiefs, maybe a quarter in the second exhibition bout against the Los Angeles Chargers and probably not at all in the preseason finale versus the Las Vegas Raiders.
Lance, however, figures to get the lion’s share of snaps under center for San Francisco during this three-game stretch.
The 49ers, too, have three other quarterbacks on the offseason roster: Nate Sudfeld, Josh Rosen and Josh Johnson. Of that crop, Sudfeld appears to be the favorite to earn the No. 3 spot on the depth chart behind Garoppolo and Lance, namely due to his $252,000 signing bonus and the fact he has a prior rapport with the Niners’ quarterbacks coach, Rich Scangarello.
Yet that doesn’t mean Sudfeld will see any more than just a handful of snaps, likely towards the end of each of these preseason bouts, potentially pushing players like Rosen and Johnson off the roster with the latter two pressed to see any field time whatsoever.
Still, the bulk of snaps will probably go towards Lance. And it’ll be up to him to try mastering some of the complex terminology and aspects of Shanahan’s offense, which can take some time to learn. True, Shanahan might dial back many of the intricate elements of his system for Lance to develop slowly while also improving the rapport the quarterback is hoping to develop with his receiving targets.
And overall, Lance’s mere presence on the field will make San Francisco’s 2021 preseason campaign a bit more interesting than it otherwise might have been.