49ers vs. Chiefs: Why Kyle Shanahan didn’t let Trey Lance run wild

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images) /

Following the 49ers’ preseason loss to the Chiefs, Kyle Shanahan was asked why Trey Lance didn’t scramble more during the game. Here’s the real reason.

One of the many reasons why head coach Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers were so aggressive moving up in last spring’s NFL Draft to select quarterback Trey Lance at No. 3 overall was because of his innate physical gifts, one of which is his running ability.

Of Lance’s many traits, being a massive rushing threat will eventually give Shanahan a dimension to his offense he hasn’t truly had since working with quarterback Robert Griffin III back with the Washington Football Team in 2012.

During the Niners’ 2021 preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, though, Lance wasn’t much of a rushing threat at all.

Lance’s rushing totals? Zero attempts for zero yards.

True, there were times where Lance looked like he wanted to take off. But he ultimately decided to target one of his pass-catchers instead. And in the process of his 14 pass attempts, Lance ended up taking four sacks, which prompted some questions as to why the rookie didn’t utilize his legs more during the game.

Kyle Shanahan gives blunt response to why 49ers didn’t let Trey Lance run

In the postgame press conference following the game, Sports Illustrated’s Grant Cohn directly questioned why Shanahan didn’t allow Lance to take off. It was quite the exchange between the two:

"Cohn: Why did you decide to keep him in the pocket and not use his legs to feature the full spectrum of his talents?Shanahan: I mean, touchdown he was out of the pocket.Cohn: I thought he was rolling out of the pocket?Shanahan: Well, you got to pull up to throw back across the field. You know?Cohn: Why not run that?Shanahan: Cause that’s what we wanted to do."

Give credit to Cohn. He doesn’t care if he’s being confrontational with Shanahan, and it was a good question to bring up, considering Lance rushed for 1,100 yards at North Dakota State in 2019 for 14 touchdowns on the ground before not doing it at all on Saturday night.

And the blunt “that’s what we wanted to do” response from Shanahan, keeping Lance in situations where he had to throw, made plenty of sense, too.

Why? Well, Shanahan wants Lance to work on his passing game. Not his running game.

49ers want Trey Lance to hone his passing skills, not his rushing skills

Fellow SI columnist Jose Sanchez, with whom I discussed this on Saturday night, gave a straightforward explanation why Shanahan wanted Lance to focus more on passing the ball than simply taking off and running, and it’s a pretty understandable argument:

"I compare this to someone who works out at the gym. Their greatest strength is with arms, but their weakness is legs. Wouldn’t that person, or even a fitness coach, look to get them working on their legs? That is Shanahan working with Lance in the pocket strictly. He is not worried about rolling him out or having him create plays with his feet. That is his natural ability and fit in the offense. What isn’t his natural ability is just sitting in the pocket and picking apart the defense."

Lance is already good at escaping pressure by using his legs, then churning out massive gains on the ground.

Yet the preseason isn’t necessarily the time to feature that. No, it’s time for raw players like Lance to focus on areas in need of improvement. Considering Lance attempted a mere 318 passes over his entire collegiate career, getting him more comfortable within the pocket and trusting in his arm should be San Francisco’s focus with its latest lofty draft investment.

Steve Young would probably agree with Kyle Shanahan’s early approach with Trey Lance

Reading Sanchez’s article got me thinking about the time I spoke with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young back when I was writing for Bleacher Report.

In that 2014 interview, we were discussing then-49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, another player known for using his legs and not necessarily relying on his arm as much as Young, another signal-caller known for his rushing prowess, would have liked.

This was the part of the interview I thought relevant:

"[Kaepernick will] always have incredible speed and elusiveness. It will always help him do things that will mask the real job, which is delivering the ball from the pocket. A lot of guys don’t have that. He’ll always have that. That’s a positive.The fact is sooner or later, you have to become the CEO to orchestrate, not only the offense, but the whole organization. Elite—Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees—these are CEOs of organizations that have mastered how to do that job from the pocket."

Early in his own career, Young was far more a scrambler than an effective pocket passer. It took time for him to hone those talents, saying “I couldn’t become that CEO, that orchestrator until I tied my legs up and learned the job.”

That’s the hurdle Shanahan wants Lance to get over.

Hot Read: Trey Lance impresses in NFL debut with 80-yard touchdown bomb

There were times when Lance showed absolute confidence within the pocket delivering passes, and his 5-of-14 stat line was ultimately hindered by at least four drops from his receivers.

At the same time, though, there were moments when Lance looked flustered, took unnecessary risks and tried getting away with pass attempts that probably won’t cut it too often against top-level NFL competition.

Again, another area where Lance will need to improve.

Later this preseason, Shanahan will likely let the rookie quarterback explore his arsenal of weapons a bit more.

In his first game, however, Shanahan simply wanted Lance to work on areas of his game that still need a lot of refinement. It makes perfect sense why.

Next. 3 overreactions from 49ers preseason loss to Chiefs. dark