5 burning questions answered; Trey Lance splashes in 49ers debut

San Francisco 49ers fullback Josh Hokit, left, and cornerback Alexander Myres tackle Kansas City Chiefs’ Mike Hughes during their game at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara on Saturday, August 14, 2021. (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

The 49ers opened their 2021 preseason with a 19-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Saturday night at Levi’s Stadium.

Let’s take a look at the answers to the 5 burning questions that I asked on Saturday morning.

1. How will the revamped offensive line perform? Needs work.

So much for getting a chance to see the changes to this unit. Alex Mack and Trent Williams were held out. This meant that Jake Brendel and rookie Jaylon Moore would get the start at center and left tackle.

The Kansas City defense would get to Trey Lance four times on the night for a total of 31 yards. Daniel Brunskill would surrender the first sack of the night to Chris Jones. Brunskill’s replacement rookie Aaron Banks didn’t fare much better, getting beat quickly to the outside for a sack.

Rookie left tackle Jaylon Moore would struggle a bit as the game went on, surrendering a sack on a third and ten play during the 49ers’ penultimate possession of the first half. Chiefs defensive end Tim Ward would use his speed to get around the rookie and take down Lance.

2. How is the third wide receiver position shaking out? Sherfield shines.

Mohamed Sanu has been the front runner for the third wide receiver position during the early part of training camp but he was held out for this game as was Jalen Hurd.

Trent Sherfield made the most of the opportunity, taking a deep throw from Trey Lance into the endzone for an 80-yard touchdown.

Richie James didn’t help his cause. Facing third and eight, Lance hit the receiver in the hands for a first down along the right sideline but the veteran could not hang on. James would be targeted on the ensuing possession while running over the middle, but this time the throw from Lance would be off the mark.

River Cracraft would be targeted four times, but gain only seven yards with his two receptions.

3. Is the defensive line as good as advertised? Yes

Nick Bosa, Dee Ford, Arik Armstead, D.J. Jones and Samson Ebukam were held out. Starting in their place were Jordan Willis, Zach Kerr, Kevin Givens and Arden Key. Of the starting group, Key had the most productive night with four tackles, while Kevin Given and Jordan Willis did a good job of pressuring Chad Henne to force an incompletion early in the second quarter.

The defensive line definitely did a good job of putting pressure on the quarterback, finishing the game with four sacks and seven quarterback hits. Pressure from the defensive line was responsible for forcing the lone Chiefs turnover when the pass rush forced Chad Henne to get rid of the ball earlier than he wanted to. The resulting poor throw bounced off the hands of the Chiefs receiver Noah Gray and Deommodore Lenoir was there for the interception.

4. Can the secondary depth hold up? Yes.

Jimmie Ward, Jason Verrett, Emmanuel Moseley and K’Waun Williams did not play, which provided a lot of action for the backups.

The rookies in the secondary all stood out. Ambry Thomas and Deommodore Lenoir showed their prowess in man coverage. While the duo would give up some catches, they were able to keep everything in front of them and limited Kansas City to only 121 yards passing while on the field.

Backup safeties Jared Mayden and Talanoa Hufanga would play well. Mayden would finish the night with five tackles and Hufanga with four.

5. What will the running back rotation be? Still unknown

With Raheem Mostert out, the bulk of the running game in the first half was handle by rookie Trey Sermon. Sermon would muster only 26 yards on nine carries with a long of five yards. The highlight for Sermon was a three-play stretch that saw him carry the ball on each play for a total of 12 yards.

Free agent acquisition Wayne Gallman would spell Sermon and gain 21 yards on six carries. Second year back JaMaycal Hasty had some impressive runs along the way to gaining 63 yards on 10 carries. As was the case with Hasty last season, he once again put the ball on the ground, losing a fumble in Kansas City territory to end a promising drive early in the fourth quarter.

Elijah Mitchell did not play.

Bonus Question: How is the quarterback competition going? It’s alive and well.

Playing behind the same offensive line, Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lances stat lines looked like this:

Jimmy Garoppolo: 3-3, 26 yards

Trey Lance: 1-2, 80 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 drop

Jimmy Garoppolo started the game and hit all three of his pass attempts for 26 yards. Garoppolo’s pass attempts would consist of a short throw in the left flat to Deebo Samuel for 13 yards, nine of which would come after the reception, and completions in the flat to Josh Hokit and Trey Sermon. 

The completion to Sermon was vintage Jimmy Garoppolo. Facing third and fifteen, Garoppolo would take the check down instead of trying to throw one past the sticks. Going downfield has never been Garoppolo’s strong suit which is part of why the 49ers are looking to move on.

After Jimmy Garoppolo took the first series, Lance came on and played into the third quarter. Kyle Shanahan didn’t take it easy on the rookie, calling for a shot play on first down. After taking the snap from under center, Lance executed a play fake and dropped deep. The pressure would flush Lance out to his right and the rookie would throw a strike to Brandon Aiyuk that the second-year receiver would drop. The possession would end with a sack on second down.

On the first play of the next possession, Lance would show fans his arm strength. Lance would roll to his left after faking the handoff and launch a deep throw that hit Trent Sherfield in stride as the receiver was running across the field for an 80-yard touchdown.

While Lance’s performance was far from perfect, finishing 5-14 for 128 yard and one touchdown, three of his passes were dropped and two completions were ruled as runs the rookie was good enough to keep the competition with Garoppolo open for another week. 

Josh Rosen came on for the second possession of the third quarter. After leading the offense down to the Kansas City 19-yard line, Rosen would be intercepted on a pass intended for Travis Benjamin. Rosen would finish out the game, completing 10 of his 15 pass attempts and leading the offense on a scoring drive to put the 49ers ahead 16-13 late in the fourth quarter.

Nate Sudfeld did not play. Expect him to finish off the game next week in San Diego.

Jack Hammer is a lifelong 49ers fan who shares insights on the team, and leads discussion on all football and team topics. Follow Jack on Twitter @JackHammer_NFL and subscribe to his YouTube Channel, YouTube.com/c/JackHammer49.

This article has 15 Comments

  1. We are back .

    1. We can no longer allow Trey to play behind the 2nd team O-line. 4 sacks is unacceptable. He was sacked 3-4 times in a practice last week. This is no way to treat our new franchise QB.

    2. Don’t overlook Jennings as WR3. I loved to see Jordan Matthews out there contributing. I really hope he makes the team as a hybrid TE WR.

    3. Lenoir had a solid day in coverage. Every time he made a play I noticed that Hufanga was just a step away providing help over the top.

    4. I’m looking forward to seeing Hurst on the Dline. Kocurek likes to rotate guys in and he will have a healthy stable of talent.
    4a. Raiders are dysfunctional yet again. Changing cities wasn’t going to help.

    5. After the game Shanahan said “There was some good and some bad,” Shanahan said after the game. “By no means was it perfect. He definitely missed a couple. There’s a couple spots that you’d like him to go to different places, sometimes a couple balls that sailed on him I think he’d like to have back. But he also came out pretty good too, making the right plays, getting the right spots. I think he had a couple drops there, especially on a third down. I think he could have kept the drive going if they had caught it. But was a good first day. I didn’t want it to go perfect for him. I love the “I didn’t want it to go perfect” .

    6. Jimmy’s reaction to Lance TD. Jimmy is a good dude.

    7. Whatever happened to a cover /shade/retractable dome for Levis. It looked pretty warm on the sunny side of the field. Come on York.

  2. I believe Lance will eventually be a great QB but he isn’t yet. He needs to develop. Lets all remember Mahomes sat his first season. Anyone who thinks that Shanahan is going to change his game plan the next two preseason games, just doesn’t understand football. Preseason game plans are as vanilla as vanilla gets. That being said we may see Lance outside the pocket a little more. Jack do you know why Mitchell didn’t play? Lastly are you going to be doing a in game blog like Grant used to do?

  3. Here is a partial list of players stood out to me for all of the right reasons on Saturday night (I’ll do the players who stood out for the wrong reasons in a different post):

    1) LB (MIKE) – Jonas Griffith: He was my darkhorse choice for biggest surprise of the preseason. He’s as physically gifted as any LB in the league, IMO, and it seems clear that he’s a smart kid as well. His successful development is a big deal, IMO, and it seems pretty obvious to me that the 49ers are in better shape at LB than I originally thought they were.

    2) SS – Talanoa Hufanga: Is this kid really a rookie? He looks like a seasoned veteran … talk about a pro’s pro. It’s not a secret that Hufanga is consistently the first guy in the building in the morning, and the last guy to leave the facility in the evening, but it’s good to see his hard work paying off. He’s obviously a smart guy, but he’s also clearly a natural. What he lacks in explosive physical traits, he more than makes up for with smarts, AND instinctive play. So between him, and Tavon Wilson, that’s another position group I’m feeling a lot better about, despite Tartt’s injury status.

    3) WR – Juaun Jennings: Kyle’s been looking for that prototypical “BIG SLOT” receiver, and Jalen Hurd was supposed to be that guy, however Jennings is yet another guy who has clearly put in a lot of effort this offseason, because he looks like a completely different guy this year. I know he suffered a severe hamstring injury before he really had a chance to get going last offseason, but even before the injury his athleticism (or lack of it) didn’t match his hype video coming out of Tennessee, but it sure does now. He’s an absolute BEAST with the ball in his hands!

    4) WR – Trent Sherfield: He’s been looking like the Niners’ clear cut #3 WR throughout training camp (Sanu looks more like a #4 WR, IMO), and he flashed again last night. He’s fast AND he’s strong for his size (also with strong hands), and he really understands how to play the position. I expect Sherfield will have a similar impact to what we saw from Marquise Goodwin back in 2017 (56 REC, 962 YDS, 17.2 YRD AVG), and that’s a pleasant surprise!

    5) RB – JaMycal Hasty: Yet another guy who has worked his butt off during the offseason. He’s more talented than Wayne Gallman, and if he can clean up his ball security issues, he should make this roster. He’s always been the Niners’ shiftiest runner, but he looks noticeably more explosive this year. Hasty’s physicality is underrated, and Kyle’s zone blocking scheme perfectly fits Hasty’s skill set. My worry is that ShanaLynch will try to stash him on the PS, in order to keep Gallman, and if they do, I have no doubt that the Rams will claim him off of wavers, if another team doesn’t beat them to it. The Rams have depth issues at RB, and I do not want Sean McVay to get his hands on Hasty to fill out that position!

    6) WR/KR – Nsimba Webster: He’s a far more dangerous player than Richie James Jr, IMO (I’ll have more on James when I get to my biggest disappointments). Webster is an electric kick returner. He’s a threat to break a big return every time he touches the ball, and we all know the value of positive field position. Of course, he can’t simply make the team on his ability as a kick returner. He’s got to be able to play WR as well. But if Webster can show something as a WR, I think his value as a kick returner may be worth giving him the final WR spot. He’s definitely somebody to keep an eye on throughout the preseason.

    7) OL – Jaylon Moore: I wish the Niners would have moved him into the interior of the OL early on this offseason, because I felt like OG was his best fit at the NFL level, and the 49ers have had persistent issues on the interior of their OL over the last few years. Plus, the Niners are likely moving from Tomlinson after this season. I think Moore shows a ton of potential, but I worry about his development since he’s being used as an OT, and not getting his opportunity at RG, the position that I feel is his natural fit. I understand that they drafted big Aaron Banks to challenge Brunskill, but unfortunately Banks looks like more of a project than I expected.

  4. Like Trey Lance. He’s the one I wanted the 49ers to take with pick 3 over Jones and Fields.

    Trey needs to hold the ball higher when evading pressure. He’s fine in dropbacks and designed roll outs, but when the moment calls for unscripted pocket movement he holds the ball low by his hip.

    Holding the ball low makes him vulnerable to strip sacks. It changes the timing when he spots a receiver while on the move.

    Other than that I think he did well. My favorite throw from last night wasn’t the long touchdown. It was the laser out pass to the left while two defenders were about to smack him. The pass wa dropped, but the pass itself was guts+talent personified.

  5. OK, I need to clarify my stance with Kyle, and why I have concerns about the way Kyle called the first preseason game VS the Chiefs.

    Let me start by making one thing very clear. I believe Kyle Shanahan is one of the best, if not the best offensive play designers/play callers, in the NFL, bar none! Kyle has already proven himself to be one of the most innovative offensive coaches as well as one of the most QB friendly offensive coaches in league history! His 2016 QB – Matt Ryan – anchored the highest-scoring offense in the NFL. Kyle was scheming WR’s wide-open all over the football field for Ryan, and he threw touchdown passes to 13 different receivers throughout the course of the season. Kyle’s QB set all sorts of franchise records, including passing yards, touchdowns, completion %, and Ryan’s 117.1 Passer Rating was the fifth-highest rating in league history.

    Yet, as impressive as Kyle Shanahan was as an Offensive Coordinator in 2016, I believe it was his 2012 season in Washington DC, where Kyle truly planted his flag as one of the most QB friendlycoaches the league had ever seen. Kyle Shanahan took one of the most complex offenses in the league, and he simplified it in order to accommodate the Heisman Trophy winning QB out of Baylor – RG3. Robert Griffin III came out of Baylor as an athletically gifted QB with a very strong arm, but Baylor’s offensive scheme left him seriously underdeveloped as a pocket passer. Kyle took his offensive concepts and schemes, broke them down, and distilled them into a simplified version of what he normally asks of his QB’s, yet he brilliantly didn’t sacrifice any overall offensive production in the process, and Griffin went on to win OROY, despite his limitations as a pocket passer!

    Legendary stuff!

    So he’s proven his ability to simplify his playbook for his young QB’s, without sacrificing any offensive production. that has earned Kyle the reputation of one of the most QB friendly QB’s in league history – no exaggeration! YET, when it comes to actually developing QB for long term success, that’s where the serious kinks in the armor are for Kyle Shanahan. All of his QB’s tend to follow the same pattern, and I believe a large part of it is that they tend to lose their overall confidence over time. That’s my concern!

    RG3 flamed out quickly, post injury. He completely lost his confidence. Kirk Cousins is the most average QB as there ever has been in the league, and he never really seemed to progress. I understand Jimmy G. suffered a serious knee injury, but he hasn’t grown a bit since ShanaLynch acquired him. In fact, he’s clearly lost confidence in his ability, and it shows up with his hesitation, and generally playing conservative football, usually taking the simplest play, even if it’s for very short yardage. Jimmy has regressed, and a lot of it is a lack of confidence., and uncertainty about his own ability, if you will. CJ Beathard was Kyle’s guy, he grabbed him earlier than anyone ever expected, and his W/L record says everything you need to know, and the same goes for Nick Mullens. In fact, Nick Mullens is one of those QB’s who regressed as a QB, despite remaining relatively healthy, which is seriously puzzling.

    So yah, I have concerns about Trey’s development. I have no doubt that Kyle could very easily run a simplified version of his offense for Trey, play to his strengths, but that’s not really my concern. Kyle hasn’t protected the kid. He’s let the HYPE build beyond real life, but Kyle didn’t seem to put any effort into making the kid feel comfortable, and confident last night (and he said as much in the post game presser) and Trey looked rattled, for good reason, he was on pace to be sacked TEN OR ELEVEN TIMES last night, had he played 4 QTRS. Never got into a grove – took way too many hard shots – and his confidence was worse for it at the end of his play tine. NO BUENO!

    I’ve been around NFL football long enough to know that overall CONFIDENCE is the most important factor early on in a young QB’s development. That’s a fact! Not getting sacked 10 times in his first NFL game. Sorry, I am not OK with that! The kid is ultra talented! The only thing that can stunt Trey’s development at this point, is if his confidence takes a hit. Last night, I saw a kid lose a little confidence, and I didn’t appreciate it!

    1. I’d rather Kyle spent less time downplaying his QB’s and more time building them up!

      To me, that’s smart, not soft!

      and less time taking unnecessary punishment, taking too many hard sacks! I don’t like to see that! That’s how guys get rattled, and hurt for no reason, damn it!

    2. 49,
      I don’t think the simplified game plan had anything to do with Shanahan slow walking Lance’s development but had everything to do with Shanahan not wanting to show any part of the new stuff he has planned for Lance. Regardless of who he had as his QB in the preseason Bill Walsh showed absolutely none of the O he would be calling in the regular season. The problem last night wasn’t KS’s play calling but the truly horrible play of the O line thats where my concerns are.

    3. “Last night, I saw a kid lose a little confidence”.

      Could you elaborate on this please? What specifically did you see to suggest he lost confidence?

      I didn’t see that at all. He looked poised throughout. He missed some throws towards the end of his stint, but I don’t think it was due to lack of confidence, or being scared, or anything like that. He’s no deer in the headlights. And he isn’t frightened to stand in there and deliver a ball.

      I think Lance is smart enough to take this as what it was – a learning experience that wasn’t game planned to take advantage of his skillset. And also smart enough to know he needs to learn the nuances of playing from the pocket in the NFL, the faster speed of the game, and that everything won’t be perfect while he learns.

      It would be a different matter if this was a real game and Shanahan was consistently putting him in bad situations. But preseason? No, I’m not seeing this as the big issue you are making it out to be.

  6. Let me also be clear …. my football knowledge is seriously rudimentary compared to Kyle Shanahan’s football knowledge!

    That’s a fact, and I know it!

    But I’ll put my common sense up next to Kyle’s ‘… any day of the week, and twice on Sundays! I’ve seen what happens to young QB’s who end up taking too many sacks early in their careers. Seen it, and I don’t need to see it again! The case is closed! Protecting young QB’s in the pocket, is proven to be a smart thing to do in terms of development! FACT!

    1. What we really should have seen last night, is …

      Jimmy sits the game out. No need to see Jimmy taking snaps and then dumping off short, dink and dunk passes, behind most of the best OL’s. Trey should have started the game last night, with the best players, and set up for success. After establishing the run game, Kyle should have dialed up some basic zone/reads, and more plays to get Trey in space, on boots and roll outs! That’s his game! He’s magic when he has time to scan the field, in space. We know he’s a pass first QB, so why is Kyle making life as difficult as possible for the kid in the pocket? I don’t think that helps a young QB’s confidence! Sorry, I don’t!

      And OLD COACH: What is Kyle really risking as far as putting stuff on tape?

      Kyle can run the same play out of multiple formations, he’s the master of disguise, so what’s the risk, really? If anything, you want to put that on tape early, showing the league that they will need to prepare to defend it! I don’t think it’s a secret that Trey Lance is magic in space, and that Kyle’s going to play to his strengths early and often, right? I mean … he better!

      1. That’s the thing OldCoach, I think Trey’s Lances confidence is more important than “hiding plays” in which Kyle can duplicate through multiple formations.

        No reason for Trey to take a bunch of rough, unnecessary sacks and hits in the pocket, including big dudes swatting at his arms, in order to hide basic versions of the zone/read, or basic versions of play-action. Trey hasn’t played football for a while. Give him as soft of a landing early on as you can. It only get’s tougher anyways, so do what you can now to protect your young QB, and let the rest take care of itself! Everyone knows you’re going to use Lance early in the season, and in the process, your going to bring him in in situations that you can utilize his legs/arm.

        Whatever you do, you pump the kid up, and make him look good, and naturally confident in the process. And I don’t understand how Kyle would think that last night’s rough game (in terms of taking hard shots in the pocket, was the best way to develop Trey. 10 sacks had he played for a full game? Come on!

        1. 49,
          I believe there are only 2 mistakes KS can make with Lance. #1 Get him hurt and With this O line I think the only thing he can do is have him play Jimmy ball meaning have him throw the 5 yard dink and dunks. #2 rush him, Hopefully by the time they get to the bye the O line will have come together and if needed Lance could step in. Jimmy can win with this roster there is no hurry. imho

          1. I just don’t understand why Kyle didn’t make a point of making Lance look good last night, and make sure he didn’t take a beating in terms of sacks. He’s the franchise now. Jimmy is basically inconsequential now, at least in comparison to Trey Lance. Lance is now your guy, Kyle, and your career is now dependent on Lance’s success, so you should do everything in your power to build him up, always putting him the best situation for success. I don’t care if doing that negatively effects Jimmy value on the trade market, either. Once the organization used three 1’s and a 3rd rounder for Lance, it became all about him, so whatever you do, make sure you do your best to protect him as an investment!

            1. i don’t get it either… the whole world knows what Lance can do with his legs and everyone expect the Niners to utilize it. So the whole premise of we’re going to hide it and let the kid get beat up like that in a preseason game just doesn’t make sense! We gave up 3 1st rounders and a lot of people’s job are on the line with the success of Lance and you let him get sacked like that. SMH

              1. 1. They weren’t hiding the fact he can run, they just weren’t going to show the NFL any designed run play.s. 2. This was his first welcome to the real world of the NFL. They need to find out what he can do in the NFL not college. He hasn’t proven anything yet in the NFL. 3. He has to learn how to avoid sacks because this is what it’s like in the NFL.

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