COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — There seems to be a clear plan in place to bring San Francisco 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance along slowly.
But if Lance glanced across the field towards Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers during two days of joint practices between the teams, he would have been reminded that such intentions can be erased by the unforgiving whims of football.
Lance threw passes with the starting offense in a live team period for the first time Friday, while Herbert concluded his first training camp as the starter.
While incumbent Jimmy Garoppolo took the majority of reps, Lance, the third overall selection in the NFL draft, attempted a handful of passes with the first unit. He completed throws to wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Mohamed Sanu Sr., along with a few designed runs and scrambles, before wrapping up the workout with a touchdown pass to running back JaMycal Hasty during a red-zone drill.
Lance’s previous first-team work had been limited to rushes or handoffs, hints he could be used this season in a change-of-pace package built around the zone-read and quarterback keepers.
“They’re just, obviously, a couple different plays here and there, but it’s fun to do new stuff sometimes, and I thought he did a good job today,” tight end George Kittle said.
Kittle said the biggest adjustment to having Lance at quarterback is the changes in the blocking scheme to accommodate his running.
“When you do zone option stuff, like, who you’re blocking depending on what look it is, depending on the certain play call, it’s just a lot of loose ends I would have to say that we’re sharpening up right now and just trying to figure out the best way to do it,” Kittle said.
The presence of Garoppolo, who took the 49ers to the Super Bowl in the 2019 season, should allow Lance to be brought along slowly as a rookie. The aim of coach Kyle Shanahan looks to be highlighting Lance’s outstanding physical tools at 6-foot-4 and 224 pounds in a limited role while still giving him time to develop after starting just 17 games at North Dakota State.
The Chargers wanted to take a cautious approach with Herbert last season, with the aim of letting him sit behind veteran Tyrod Taylor despite being a four-year starter at Oregon. However, Herbert was pressed into action in Week 2 when Taylor sustained a punctured lung because of a pregame injection.
Herbert never relinquished the job, earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors after throwing for 4,336 yards and 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
In spite of that impressive debut, Herbert said this offseason has been incredibly valuable in helping him continue to develop.
“There’s so much room to grow at quarterback,” Herbert said. “It’s an awesome opportunity because there’s so much more about the game that you keep learning. As much as I think I know, there’s always more to learn, whether it’s protections, defensive coverages, fronts, or the way the linebackers line up and discuss their blitzes.”
The two workouts with the 49ers before breaking camp represented a chance to put new coordinator Joe Lombardi’s system into action. Although the Chargers were without both starting tackles against a strong 49ers pass rush, Herbert enjoyed the test an unfamiliar defense provided.
“It’s been trial by fire,” Herbert said. “You have to go in there knowing you’re going to make mistakes. The way we’ve installed everything is by the front end. There are tough situations, you’re going to make mistakes, but you get better from them. You watch the film, and as the weeks go one, it seems like fewer and fewer mistakes. We’re at the point now where it’s second nature.”
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