Training camp was never likely to provide definitive proof Trey Lance is the long-term answer for the 49ers at quarterback. So far his first as San Francisco’s starter under center has delivered the ups and downs that should be expected of a player with his inexperience.
While he started two games and played half of another in 2021, Lance for all intents and purposes had a redshirt year as a rookie after the Niners traded three first-round picks to select him third overall.
The volatility that has been predominant throughout camp, with Lance going from delivering pinpoint downfield strikes and unstoppable darts on the move, to sailing intermediate passes and throwing grisly interceptions, is a predictable consequence of his lack of seasoning both in college and at the pro level.
While it is unclear what the 49ers will get from Lance when he steps onto the field in the regular season, San Francisco can afford to be confident he has the temperament to survive the peaks and valleys that will come in his first full season as a starter.
Lance’s mental makeup played a significant role in the 49ers’ decision to draft him and, as Brandon Aiyuk explained following a difficult showing for Lance on Sunday, his maturity is already shining through in how he responds to adversity on the practice field.
“The best thing about Trey: He walked off the practice field and was still the exact same way today,” Aiyuk said. “He talked about it. Talked to us after a couple plays he wished he had back. Talked to us the same way as if he were to hit a play. What he saw, what he didn’t see, what he liked. ‘That was on me. Maybe we should be here.’ He was still talking to us, trying to figure it out. Level, even-keeled dude. We don’t worry about him at all, really. We’ll look at it. He came in and said, ‘Let’s take a look at it later on today.’ Then we move on.”
That even-keeled approach will be critical for Lance to deal with volatility that will likely continue into the season.
There will be consistent flashes of the downfield and dual-threat upside that make him such an exciting player. However, playing behind an offensive line potentially featuring as many as three new interior starters, there will also surely be growing pains and turnovers that he and the Niners will need to work through if they are to contend in 2022.
Yet with the baseline of offensive production Kyle Shanahan’s scheme offers, combined with a defense that appears in the mix to be the league’s best this season, the 49ers possess the tools to successfully navigate the inconsistency.
The worry will come if Lance does not learn from his mistakes and improve. Yet Aiyuk’s description of Lance’s mindset paints the picture of a quarterback determined to give his team no such cause for concern.