Steve Young gives thoughts on how Trey Lance can avoid “wasted year”

Former football player Steve Young, left, talks with San Francisco 49ers owner Jed York before an NFL football game between the 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks in Santa Clara, Calif., Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)

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.”

This article has 12 Comments

  1. I doubt very much that Lance isn’t working hard to prepare himself. If he isn’t, it will not only be a wasted year but a wasted career. Sitting out this year or even next year is completely different than what Steve Young went thru.
    I didn’t see the interview so I much appreciate a factual interpretation of the interview unlike what was said my a poster on a previous thread.

  2. Geesh Jack, why are you leaving out the biggest point Steve Young went on KNBR to make this morning? The big point that Steve made, which you apparently made a conscientious decision not to include, happens to be the same point a lot of 49er fans are making in recent weeks. What’s up with that?

    Here is the way KNBR’s headline reads (12/9): Steve Young on KNBR – ‘Why is Trey Lance not capable of getting on the field?’ Did you completely miss this part, Jack, or just conveniently omit it from this article? It’s gotta be one or the other!

    Anyways, here’s the part you seem to have missed – Steve Young’s transcript: ‘Why is Trey not capable of getting on the field?’, Young rhetorically asked Tolbert, Krueger and Brooks on Wednesday. “I’m not saying (he should be) starting. Where we started the year was we had some packages, I want to see him play, he’s a different dynamic, he can be really great in the red zone. Why is he shut down?”

    KNBR continues: Part of Young’s confusion has to do with the fact that he believes making Lance sit is a waste. That was his (Steve’s) experience sitting behind Joe Montana waiting for his shot in the mid-80s. For Young, the idea that sitting and learning from a veteran QB is a valuable experience, is largely a myth. “First of all, you learn by watching. I get that,” Young said. “But for me, for my career, for me, those were lost years. What I learned (while) watching was amazing, but I didn’t need those years. I look at those as kind of maybe (needing) one year to kind of really get a handle on things, but those are lost years for me.”

    Let’s be honest, Steve Young has made it clear since before the season started, that he didn’t agree with bringing Garoppolo back this year, so let’s remember that. Remember this fairly recent quote from 49ers legend Steve Young: “SF locker room ‘fraught with terror’ over Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance”?

    But the cruxes of Steve’s argument today -12 games into the season -is the same argument I’ve been making the last couple weeks. I cannot for the life of him figure out why Kyle can’t use him in a specialized basis this season. In fact, most people I talk to can’t either. I openly admit that there is a reasonable argument to be made about the value of Trey Lance sitting for a year, but it’s hard to imagine the 49ers would be in a much worse position in the standings thru 12 game, if Kyle had in fact shipped Garoppolo off during the offseason, and gone all in on Lance from day one of training camp. The part of the equation that never really made since was bringing Jimmy Garoppolo back, IMO. Not only is Jimmy far too inconsistent for the money he’s being paid , he’s also the most injury prone starter in the NFL over the last 5 years, by a wide margin. Wasting an additional $26+M on a bridge QB, rather than finding a much, much cheaper veteran option, was perhaps the biggest mistake in this entire process, and it’s starting to look like that mistakes is not only costing them dearly this season, it is also looking very likely to carry over into 2022, and probably even beyond that, considering how valuable an additional $35M would have been for a team that has a large number of players set to become FA’s, but is also scheduled to be without another 1st round pick until 2024.

    This plan was stupid back in July, and it only looks that much more stupid in early December, as many of us predicted!

    Maybe the next KNBR interview you should cover on this blog, Jack, is: Greg Cosell breaks down 49ers’ unpredictability on KNBR: They ‘can really win only one way’ Because this is another one of my biggest takes after the 49ers got swept, yet again by the Seahawks, only this team the Seahawks entered Sunday’s game at a lowly 3W – 8L! Absolutely INEXCUSABLE, and it’s about time somebody takes accountability for what is shaping up to be yet another disappointing season … don’t you think?

    1. Young’s “wasted” years didn’t come until he’d already made 44 professional starts, and he acknowledges that sitting and watching is valuable. His “wasted” years don’t fit into where Trey Lance is at the moment.

      This season is not a disappointment if the 49ers reach the playoffs. They are currently in a playoff spot and if they can get there, they’ll have accomplished something the organization has done only 6 times in the last 20 years.

    2. Let’s be honest, Steve Young has made it clear since before the season started, that he didn’t agree with bringing Garoppolo back this year, so let’s remember that.

      And Young has certainly mastered the art of passive-aggression. Going up to Jimmy before the Rams game, telling him how well he’s handling the (bad) situation (he’s in with the Niners). Sure, thanks Steve. Water that tree of doubt in Jimmy’s mind.

  3. A lot of words to say exactly what you’ve been saying all year. Steve has a specific experience that has nothing to do with Trey. Steve had to sit behind Joe for years and of course he thinks they were wasted years. I’ll bet Aaron Rogers feels the same way but that’s the situation they found themselves in. Steve was a great quarterback but not a coach and he’s only talking about his own personal experience. He was only asking the question yet he knew the answer because Kyle has explained it.

    You may talk to people who feel the same as you do but the team is solidly behind Jimmy. They want to win games and they want Jimmy to be the quarterback. So do many readers of this blog, so chill. Just because you say it, doesn’t make it so.

    1. But it does, Felix. Facts are facts. I understand that the situation during Steve’s early years with the 49ers was different than Trey’s. Steve understand s that as well. In the same vein, the situation between the Alex Smith/Patrick Mahomes situation and the Garoppolo/Lance situation, are also very different.

      For one thing – Joe Montana was still the best QB in the NFL, IMO, at the time Walsh acquired Steve. Joe is a 4 time Super Bowl winning QB and 3 time Super Bowl MVP. Joe never threw a single INT in those 4 Super Bowl wins.

      For another – the 49ers didn’t mortgage their future Steve Young.

      But putting all of that aside, not being able to get Trey Lance on the field, even on an extremely specialized way, is a different deal all together! It’s one thing to make the decision to bring back Jimmy for one last horah, despite the potential for a fractured locker room. But it’s something else entirely to completely ignore the advantages of using Trey in a specialized role in order to enhance your offense, as well as giving him an opportunity to feel like he’s contributing in some capacity! It’s wasted potential, and it’s hurting the 49ers playoff hopes!

      Kyle must know he’s wasting a golden opportunity to help his football team, in fact, look no further than week 3, the big Sunday night matchup vs GB. This is not speculation! This is a concrete example of Trey’s ability to enhance this offense as a short yardage specialist, even on a very limited basis! Levi’s Stadium erupted after Trey scored a TD as time expired, right before halftime. That one play gave the 49ers a shot in the arm, and they came out of half time with a noticable boost of energy that was absent in the first half. Now imagine if the 49ers don’t score there, or even give GB a moral victory by settling for a disappointing FG.

      This is why I am surprised that Jack completely omitted this part of Steve’s KNBR interview yesterday, because Steve is clearly angry in respect to the way Kyle has completely shelved the young QB, and obviously wants to get this point across to a large audience of bay area Niner fans. And the be frank, in my opinion every 49ers fan should be angry about this as well, because Trey could be contributing in a way that makes this team better, and isn’t that what being a HC is all about?

      The most important job Kyle has as a HC, is to set his team up as best he can in order to give them the very best chance to WIN each and every time his team steps into that football field, and in failing to find a way to get Trey on the field this season, even if it’s in a very limited capacity, Kyle is failing at his most important job, which is really what Steve Young is saying, just not in so many words!

      CASE IN POINT: the 49ers found themselves in a critical 4th and 1 at a very important juncture of the game this last Sunday (and the season for that and they had been struggling to run the football consistently vs the Seahawks (2.8 YPC) all afternoon, if ever there was ever a golden opportunity to utilize the dynamic, duel-threat weapon that is Trey Lance, it was then and there! In fact, Kyle even called the exact play that Trey, even as a rookie, can execute as well as any QB on the planet – a short yardage zone/read concept! But rather than giving his team their best chance to succeed by using Trey Lance, he inexplicably called it for Jimmy, and what happened next is exactly why it’s absolutely INEXCUSABLE not to use Trey Lance in a specialized manner. Sure enough, the heavy-footed Garoppolo kept the football, which still would likely have worked if Trey were running the play, but Jimmy doesn’t have the same skill set, and Jimmy’s first step looked as if he was wearing combat boots, knee deep in mud. It was predictable then that he was swallowed up by the Seattle defenders. The play ended up not counting because Mack botched the snap, but the phycological boost had already been handed to Seattle at that point, because when the 49ers needed to impose their will and win the short yardage battle at that critical moment of the game. Instead it was the Seahawks who won the battle, as they absolutely swallowed Jimmy up, which had the 12th man going crazy, which naturally gave Seattle an important emotional boost of energy, at a key stage of the game, and the Seahawks smartly took advantage of that boost, up until the final second ticked away!

      Meanwhile, there must be a little part of the young and impressionable Trey Lance, who was left standing on the sideline, helmet on and chin strap snapped, who is feeling like I’d HC doesn’t even trust him enough to do the one thing he does best.

      That’s why Steve Young was so pis_ed off at Kyle Shanahan, and vented that anger during the interview, and that’s why Kyle’s reputation has taken a serious hit again this season! Only this time things have finally changed. The national media is no longer giving Kyle the benefit of the doubt. It’s not only about Kyle’s overall W-L record as a HC, which in of itself is an embarrassment for such a storied franchise. It’s because everyone understands that this is Kyle’s show. Every single aspect of this football team, has Kyle’s fingerprints all over it. And the one area where Kyle really built his reputation as an offensive genius – the success he had at making the postseason, by taking a young, raw, athletically gifted duel-threat QB, and creating an offense that took advantage of his specific skill set, and using it to evolve his father’s outside zone run blocking scheme, was nothing short of brilliant at the time, and the fact that RG3 was named ROY, only reinforced Kyle’s newfound reputation as a QB whisperer. And then Kyle evolved by using pre-snap motion at a higher rate than any OC before him, in order to manipulate opposing defenses, making it a whole lot harder to disguise their coverages, really gave Kyle the “genius” reputation, despite the fact that based on actually offensive production, his offenses rarely actually lit the world on fire, and in fact, more often than not, his offenses ended up ranking in the bottom half of the league, despite his fleeting reputation.

      But that was then! And Kyle is no longer only responsible for his offense, which I reality has rarely been among the leagues best (with a few exceptions). Kyle is aming the most powerful HC’s in the NFL, as well as being one of the highest paid. And once again his team his team is flirting with missing the postseason, which would be the 4th time in 5 seasons. His offense is once again struggling to find any consistency, and the one formula they have established as a winning formula, is almost entirely dependent on using his best WR, who was having an MVP season as a WR, and Turing him into a RB. And it’s PATHETIC really, when you consider that he has a more talented duel threat QB than RG3 ever was, who feels powerless and unable to contribute, because Kyle can’t even figure out a way to incorporate the most dynamic offensive player on his football team, into his offense, in order to give his team their best chance to win!

      1. I find it hilarious that a guy who sits on his couch on Sundays thinks he is smarter and more knowledgeable than a person who is a highly paid professional. How devoid of reality does one have to be to write these diatribes that make no sense?

        1. The highly paid professional who sees Trey up close and is 1000% more able to judge his readiness than 49couchpotatoes. And is Steve Young attending Niners practices, meetings, game planning? No. That makes him, Niner great though he was, just another media blabbermouth.

  4. Tom Brady was 23 years old in his first NFL start.
    Steve Young was 24 years old in his first NFL start with Tampa Bay.
    Aaron Rodgers was 25 years old in his first NFL start.
    Joe Montana was 23 years old in his first NFL start.
    Drew Brees was 23 years old in his first NFL start.

    Trey Lance just turned 21 years old. He was a college starter for 1 year. He could never see the field for another entire year and still be younger than all of those HOFers in his first start. The experience he’s gaining in practice with the luxury of learning an offense without the pressure to deliver wins is amazing. You can argue Trey Lance should get game time. That is a legitimate argument. Any argument that he should be the starter when the 49es are still very much in the hunt for the playoffs is lunacy. Trey Lance is a kid. Let him finish drivers ed before putting him in the cockpit of SpaceX Falcon 9.

    1. I only see Trey being inserted in certain situations. I believe that he might have done a better job than Jimmy on the read option play, but that’s not necessarily a given because the seahawks would have used personnel to contain the play as soon as Lance came on the field.

      While I would like to see Trey get a few plays per game, I have to lean with Shanahan that Garoppolo gives the 49ers the best chance at winning. We saw Lance play against Arizona and it was obvious that he is not ready for prime time.

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