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It’s going to be hard for the 49ers to temper expectations for No. 3 overall pick Trey Lance after they shelled out three first-round picks and a future third-round choice to move up to get him. Reports from on site at OTAs could make it difficult to tamp down on what fans want to see from Lance in his rookie season.
NBC Sports Bay Area’s Matt Maiocco was on Sports Radio KJR in Seattle during the final week of June and discussed what he saw from Lance in OTAs. While there were no bad reports about Lance’s performance in his first NFL practice, Maiocco on KJR said he noticed tangible growth from Lance during the voluntary workouts.
“The first week we went out there and he just kind of seemed to be a little bit unsure of himself — a tick slow,” Maiocco told KJR’s Ian Furness. “The ball was sailing high, you could tell there was just a lot going on in his head. Then in the next week he went out there and you could tell he was directing traffic, moving guys from spot A to spot B, and he threw the ball a little bit more accurately. It’s not often that you see a dramatic change that you can see with your naked eye.”
Maiocco said he confirmed his thoughts with 49ers general manager John Lynch, who agreed with his assessment.
It’s not a significant raising of the bar, but it offers a brighter picture than any we’d seen from the couple 49ers practices open to reporters. Head coach Kyle Shanahan said in a videoconference after OTAs that he thought Lance acquitted himself well.
“I think he did a good job. I mean, just being able to throw everything at him, you know, we got through the whole installation and be able to do that,” Shanahan said. “You know, there’s a process of it. Some days you do good, some days you do bad, but there’s a whole up and down with it that is necessary for a guy to go through. So you can get those reps, soak it in, have an idea of what it feels like. Now we have tape to show him, tape to talk to him about, he gets to get away on his own and have an idea of what’s expected out of him when he gets back.”
There was already going to be at least a little bit of a quarterback competition between Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo, and there’ve been no guarantees from Shanahan or Lynch that Garoppolo would be the starter in Week 1 at Detroit, although it seemed to be trending that way given Lance’s relatively little experience.
However, if there’s tangible growth in just a few days of practice, it may be time to rethink just how far behind Lance is in terms of where he needs to be to earn a starting job. That isn’t to say he’ll be nipping at Garoppolo’s heels on Day 1 of camp, but the notion that he can make up the ground between him and the incumbent just over the course of training camp doesn’t seem so far-fetched if he’s applying improvements and what he learned that quickly.
Whether Lance does wind up taking up all the oxygen between him and Garoppolo was always a matter of ‘when’ and not ‘if.’ And no amount of slow-playing from the head coach or GM was going to slow the building excitement in the fan base for Lance’s eventual debut. If observations such as Maiocco’s continue rolling in early in camp though, that it’ll add fuel to an already burning fire and expectations for the rookie are going to explode before they simmer.