As the 49ers first week of organized team activities ended last Thursday, it was hard not to think about the movie Groundhog Day.
In the Bill Murray classic, a weatherman gets stuck in a time loop and has to repeatedly live the same day. Instead of Murray’s character, Phil Connors, the star this time around is Trey Lance.
As was the case last offseason, debates have raged about the 49ers quarterback position. All that’s changed is Jimmy Garoppolo’s character has been replaced by Brock Purdy.
Purdy won eight straight games before suffering a torn UCL in his right elbow during the 49ers opening possession of the NFC championship game. The injury and subsequent surgery have kept the quarterback off the practice field. While the 49ers remain optimistic Purdy will be ready for week one, the timeline isn’t solid.
Without Purdy on the practice field, the door has been opened for Lance to step in and prove to the team that he is the best option moving forward.
Lance suffered a broken finger when his hand hit the helmet of a Las Vegas Raiders defender during the final preseason game in 2021.
As a result of the finger injury Lance was forced to change his grip to compensate. This led to issues with his throwing motion as he tried to work around the injury.
The 49ers knew about the injury and Lance’s adjustment well in advance of OTA’s opening last season. Yet following the first practice open to the media in May of last year Kyle Shanahan told the assembled media the quarterback was ready to go based on his performance during offseason workouts.
“You could tell he (Lance) got healthy while he was gone,” said Shanahan. “He’s come back and gotten in four good weeks of work.”
The finger injury was not addressed again until this offseason when the 49ers brass brought it up to explain Lance’s issues with accuracy during training camp last year.
Quarterback coach and early performance
Lance spent the 2022 offseason working with Adam Dedeaux of 3DQB. Dedeaux and Lance reworked the quarterback’s delivery prior to the beginning of OTAs.
Following practice there were questions about Lance’s new throwing mechanics and the improvement he had made during the offseason.
As the San Francisco 49ers finished the first week of organized team activities on Thursday the following phrase came to mind, “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Local media was allowed in for Tuesday’s session and as expected Trey Lance was the star of the show.
The 49ers quarterback has spent much of the offseason working with a new personal coach, Jeff Christensen, to refine his mechanics and looked good. Lance hit all his throws during the early portion of practice before completing 12 of 17 passes during seven on seven and team drills.
The improvement shown by Lance is a positive development, however, how much have things changed from a year ago?
When you turn the page back a year, you find how Lance spent the early portion of that 2022 offseason working on his mechanics with Adam Dedeaux at 3DQB. Reports from the first OTA practice went into great detail about Lance’s new throwing motion and how well he did in practice, I had him down as completing 16 of his 20 attempts on the day.
Kyle Shanahan was asked to give his first impression of Lance, and how he looked.
“He’s been great. He went away for a while, along with almost everyone else. You can tell he got healthy while he was gone, and he’s come back, and he has gotten in four good weeks of work.”
Shanahan was even asked if Lance’s release was a little more three quarters instead of over the top.
Notice how familiar this all sounds to what has been said and reported since Tuesday?
In a 2019 article asking about how much a quarterback’s throwing motion can be changed, Kyle Shanahan provided insight into his belief on the topic.
“If a guy throws a certain way, and you think, ‘We’re going to teach him at 23 to throw it differently,’ he might do it in practice and might do it in drills, but you throw him into an NFL game in the heat of a battle, and he’s going to resort to who he is and what he’s always done,” Shanahan said.
During Tuesday’s practice Lance and the 49ers first team offense ran just four plays, two of which were passes, with the offensive and defensive lines involved. Lance checked the ball down to Elijah Mitchell in the left flat for a nice gain on his first attempt. On the second attempt, Lance held the ball too long before checking it down to Kyle Juszczyk in the left flat and linebacker Curtis Robinson nearly came away with the interception.
In this very small sample size, the head coach’s comments held true.
For Lance and the 49ers, the real answer about any improvement won’t start to be known until training camp. That’s when the pads will come on and the quarterback will need to execute the offense with bodies all around him.