49ers rookie report card: How Trey Lance fared vs. Chargers

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports /

The 49ers watched Trey Lance start off slow in preseason Week 2 against the Chargers, but he responded with touchdowns on two quality drives.

Part of any young quarterback’s maturation process is learning how to overcome adversity.

San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance had a dose of how to do that in Sunday’s 15-10 preseason win on the road over the Los Angeles Chargers.

Just like his inaugural NFL appearance the week before at home against the Kansas City Chiefs, the final stat line doesn’t tell anywhere close to the full story. Lance went 8-of-14 for 102 yards, two touchdowns against one interception, posted a passer rating of 89.9 and even got to scramble for 8 yards, too, despite head coach Kyle Shanahan wanting the elusive and speedy signal-caller to hold back from rushing in exhibition contests.

But Lance, once again, was dogged by the drops, including one which led to the aforementioned interception:

Veteran wide receiver Mohamed Sanu was the intended target, and one might figure the savvy pro wouldn’t commit a gaffe like that.

But on a not-totally accurate pass from Lance with some extra heat on it, the bobbled would-be catch for an interception is somewhat understandable.

Still, an area in need of improvement.

49ers report card: Grading Trey Lance vs. Chargers

There were two other drops by wide receivers, one by Deebo Samuel and another by Richie James, bringing Lance’s total of dropped passes to a league-high seven through Week 2 of the preseason, according to Pro Football Focus.

A good deal of that is on the wide receivers, but there should be a slight bit of blame on Lance, too.

Let’s start with the elements of Lance’s game that still need improvement, since the good elements can always wait.

Needs improvement

On at least two of the three dropped passes, Lance’s throw wasn’t exactly on point and leading the receiver. In the case of Samuel’s drop, it was high. Perhaps not to the point where Samuel had only a tiny chance of hauling it in, but Lance should bear at least a little of the blame here.

Perhaps the bigger observation, though, was the pure speed at which Lance threw his passes. Granted, this can be a strength at times, particularly when windows are going to be tight and require a quick zip to proverbially “thread the needle.”

But for many a Niners pass-catcher used to the slower passes from quarterbacks like Jimmy Garoppolo and the former Nick Mullens, learning how to catch the heat from Lance might take some time, too.

Lance displayed some touch on his passes later during his appearance, so we know those are in his arsenal.

Still, the rookie who tossed only 318 passes at the college level will need to grow in this department.

There were also moments, particularly during his opening three possessions, where Lance appeared as if the game was moving too fast for him, and he was reacting more than dictating the course of play.

Again, that’ll come in time, and some may argue the game slowed down for him as he saw more reps.

Looking good

OK, time for the positives. They’re more fun anyway.

Lance was able to use his feet more against the Bolts. And while there were moments when he could have checked down to a receiver when Los Angeles sent blitzes, the fact Lance took two sacks after taking four last week should be considered a sign of improvement in that regard.

But the two impressive drives that stand out and help boost Lance’s grade here were the two-minute drill he had to close out the first half, followed by his second possession in the third quarter.

With less than a minute remaining, Lance got the 49ers into scoring position after displaying some touch on a 41-yard completion to wide receiver Trent Sherfield, which was followed up by a dart to Sanu for the touchdown before the half closed:


One of the likely “to do” items for Lance this preseason was to successfully engineer a two-minute drill to perfection, and this impressive showing certainly checks off that box.

But one of the other items Niner Noise posted on Lance’s to-do list in this game was to engineer an elongated drive that ended with a touchdown.

On the Niners’ second possession in the second half, that’s precisely what Lance did, finishing off an 11-play, 63-yard drive with a touchdown dart to wide receiver Travis Benjamin:


It’s one thing to be able to have a quick-strike offense that can score from anywhere on the field.

But there will be moments when San Francisco calls upon Lance to grind down the clock and move the ball both effectively and efficiently.

The latter drive, which ended up being Lance’s final one during the game, helped answer that need.

Trey Lance grade in 49ers win vs. Chargers: B-

One could make the argument Lance improved from his preseason-opener efforts against the Chiefs, being forced to overcome some early challenges while putting the 49ers in a position where they’d come from behind to take the lead.

Even in a preseason setting, that’s important.

The touch passes will need to be developed a bit more, and Lance’s pocket awareness still isn’t where it needs to be just yet. But the rookie showed more signs of being an effective playmaker, and all his talents are beginning to come together.

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