Waiting for the opportunity to showcase your talents can be tough. Just ask Steve Young. The former 49ers quarterback was forced to sit behind Joe Montana throughout most of his first four seasons after being traded from Tampa Bay to San Francisco.
In a wide-ranging discussion during Young’s weekly show on KNBR Wednesday evening, the Hall of Famer was asked what advice he would give 49ers rookie quarterback Trey Lance. Young started his response with his early experience in San Francisco.
“First of all, you learn by watching. I get that,” Young said. “But for me, for my career, those were lost years. What I learned watching was amazing, but I didn’t need those years. I look at those as kind of maybe one year to kind of really get a handle on things, but those are lost years for me.”
Young’s journey to those “wasted years” was much different than that of Lance. While Lance is only 21 and in his first year of professional football, Young had four seasons of professional experience in the USFL and with Tampa Bay prior to sitting most of the following four seasons from age 26-29.
As Young points out in his response, it’s possible to learn by observing, and having a year to get familiar with life in the NFL could be a positive in the development of a young quarterback. Unless the 49ers choose to bring Garoppolo back at his current salary or renegotiate his contract, both of which seem to be long shots given their salary cap situation, Lance will inherit the starting role next season.
Earlier in the interview Young explained what he learned during his time watching and how it helped him go from chaotic, using his athletic ability on every play to become more cerebral in his approach once he became the starter full-time in San Francisco.
“With quarterbacks, if all the expansiveness in your game comes through the fundamentals, that’s when things freaking hum. Unfortunately, most of the time young quarterbacks go by the fundamentals to get to the cool, really fun, great stuff. That’s what I learned from watching Joe Montana,” said Young.
“Joe loved the data. Joe was deep in the data, and Joe took nothing for granted. In fact, one of the things he was best at was his ability to ‘just follow the rules’ and hold on to the basics of what you had just memorized and studied, and I was amazed. It told me, if you are going to be great you’ve got to go through the fundamentals. You can’t go around them because you’ll never get there.”
Nobody would confuse Jimmy Garoppolo for Joe Montana, however the focus on fundamentals and making the routine play that Young mentions could be beneficial for Lance.
Lance is often viewed as a running quarterback due to his athleticism, however, that’s a misconception. Lance has shown in college and during his short time with the 49ers that he’s usually a pocket passer first. Although Lance has the ability to
take off and run, he wants to make the play from the pocket before all else.
Young finished with very specific advice for Lance can get the most out of this season, “Plan on starting against Cincinnati,” suggested Young. “Prepare as if it’s happening and you’re going to study & prepare & go through the rigors and everything you need to do. And if you do that, in that discipline you can get better. Trey could be wasting a year here unless he’s digging in to prepare as if he is going to play.”