Trey Lance’s Offseason Transformation: What Has Changed?

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.

Quarterback controversy

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 All that’s changed is Jimmy Garoppolo’s character has been replaced by Brock Purdy.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.

Finger injury

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.

This article has 19 Comments

  1. Its going to be a very interesting camp and preseason. For what ever reason KS got the rep early in his career as a HC who got his players injured in camp and preseason games. He has reacted to that rep by running the softest camp and using his 1st stringers in preseason games less than any other HC in the NFL. That has resulted in very slow starts where his players including his QBs have not been prepared to play until after the first quarter of the season. With a QB competition this year I wonder if camp and preseason games will be far more competitive? If so hopefully we won’t see a return of the mass injuries we saw in earlier camps. I don’t see any other way than a highly competitive camp and preseason games where 1st stringer play the full 1st half of games to give his QBs a fair chance at winning their job and preparing to get off to a good start. If not will a QB who starts slowly be unfairly benched after a 1-2 or an 1-3 start?

    1. Who did he have that reputation with, some fans? Do you have any facts to back up your claim that he has the softest camp in the NFL or that he plays starters in preseason less than any team in the NFL?

      1. Who did he have that reputation with, some fans?

        I think it was Tartt that brought it up. Here I found the article:

        “I don’t know what they [49ers] did this past camp, but if we’re going based off when I was there, I honestly thought he [Kyle Shanahan] was saving our bodies. But, just being with the Eagles, the short time I was with them, it ain’t even close.

        Then you just have to go off results. From last year, the Eagles, I think they were number one in least injured players. This year, I think it’s the same. So if we’re going off results, pure results, the Eagles, their plan is by far one of the best. They definitely let you rest your body.

        You’re able to be fast and light. Not feeling the pressure and the bumps and bruises throughout the season.”

        Does Shanahan care about Tartt’s specific comments? Probably not. But he likely saw that his players were getting injured at a higher rate than other teams and maybe tweaked his practice schedule and regime (pads or no pads…etc…). Walsh had a reputation for less high impact full padded practices. But then he was also an intense stickler for details. So he made sure his teams knew every minute detail of what they were supposed to do on each play. He drilled it into them ad nauseum. So I think it’s one thing to lay off full contact practices when your team is a bunch of mostly veterans that expertly know their schemes and roles and a whole other deal when the team is still learning and figuring things out.

        1. Allfor,
          Part of that is KSs responsibility and part the responsibility of the 2011 CBA. In 1981 the 9ers started camp Approx July 7 and ended Approx Aug. 30. It consisted of two a days and evening meetings Mon thru Fri with one practice on Sat Mornings. Camps since July 2011 camps start Approx July 28 with the first 3 days for rookies and players returning from injury ending Approx Aug 23. All practice days are single practices of less than 2 hours (and this is a guess) no more than 2 back to practice days without a day off. I guess this contract has lessened concussions and future CTE but it isn’t enough time to prepare a NFL team. If Walsh had to deal with this contract i’m sure he would have dealt with it as well if not better than any of the coaches but his teams would not be as good as they were in his day. imho

          1. Yeah, I remember reading about the changes to practice schedules and intensities after the 2011 CBA was signed. I wonder if CTE has reduced but if minor injuries like soft tissue ones (hamstrings, groins etc…) that can come from lack of conditioning has increased since the 2011 CBA?

  2. I read an article at the end of last years camp where an NFL writer (for the life of me I can’t remember his name, it could have been a youtube post) Added up practice times and full contact drill times and KSs min per practice came in last. His mins per eventual starter in preseason games also came in last.

  3. You know something? We all notice that every year the off season is different. And more interesting and intriguing. Treys mechanical improvement. Christian’s full season in KS’s playbook. Kinlaw’s health. Gravedigger’s addition. Sam Darnold in a KS offense. You get the idea. I can’t wait until training camp begins but especially the regular season. I doubt we will have the #1 defense again but we will be in the top five. Our offense will be in at least the top ten. Who agrees with this Niner Faithful? Niner for life!

  4. Capt,
    I think they will be top 5 in both categories. If Jackson is able to play as good as he looks the D could be top 2 or 3. Of course it all depends on health.

    1. O.C. You are right about health. I’m always harping on the players health because the injury bug is always hurting our 49ers. I know it’s a part of the game because it’s a full contact sport, but I believe – and it seems like – the Niners are the most injury prone team. More than others.

  5. Aaron Rodger’s throwing position and motion changed in his early years. From Grantland:

    Rodgers has clearly benefited from McCarthy’s training. As good of a prospect as Rodgers was coming out of Cal, it’s striking how different he looks now: he’s more athletic, more natural, and has a stronger arm. While primary credit goes to the long hours Rodgers spends developing his craft on his own, McCarthy provided a structure for that process.

    Specifically, when Rodgers arrived in the NFL, there was what McCarthy has labeled a “stiffness” to his game. Under McCarthy’s tutelage, that has since melted away to reveal the fluid, smooth quarterback we see today. Tedford, Rodgers’s college coach and a current CFL head man, is an excellent quarterback teacher, but his college passers tended to be a bit robotic: They all dropped back, held the ball, and released it the same way. That made sense for raw high school and junior college passers who had to quickly learn the fine points of quarterbacking in order to execute Tedford’s pro-style attack, but great NFL passers must make their fundamentals serve them, not the other way around.

    The most obvious example of Rodgers making this shift is that he used to hold the ball up near his ear while in the pocket on the theory that it cut down on the time he had to bring the ball back before throwing it forward. Under McCarthy and Packers quarterback coach/offensive coordinator Tom Clements, however, Rodgers gradually began holding the ball between the middle of his chest and his throwing shoulder, a more natural spot that keeps his throwing motion compact while allowing him to rotate his body just enough to create extra velocity.

    How applicable Rodger’s experience is for Trey, I don’t know. But it’s an interesting read about an NFL QB’s successful change to their throwing motion.

  6. What is very important is the QB’s fast reaction time when under pressure.
    Aaron Rodgers may have the best textbook throwing motion in the game.
    But the most exciting QB (IMO) is Mahomes who has the ability to make a snap decision when under pressure. How many times has he made an off platform throw that has hurt the defense. I’ve seen him make a spur of the moment 5yrd push pass for a TD.

    My point is, that the textbook passing motion doesn’t always bring success. Rodgers only has one SB win and that was early in his career. Mahomes already has two in the middle of his prime.

    Being a quick decision maker in the pocket should not be underestimated. This was something I saw from Purdy last year. Hopefully, we see this in Lance and Sammy D this season.

  7. Over the past month or so, some Bay Area sports writers have termed the 49ers QB situation as a controversy.

    I don’t view it that way. The only QB competition (not controversy) is between Darnold and Lance for the #2 backup role.

    Once Purdy (unless there is a major setback) returns, he will be the unquestioned Starter. It’s very rare to see a player (especially a QB) being the last player to be drafted make the kind of impact that Brock did last season including the playoffs. What Purdy did was not luck, it was an uncanny skill set that hasn’t been seen here since the days of Jeff Garcia, who wasn’t anywhere close to Montana or Steve Young, but was an above average QB.
    The #2 QB will emerge in TC. It will be either Darnold or Lance.

  8. AES,
    I 90% agree with you. The only other possibility is Purdy is not ready at the beginning of the Reg. season and lets say TL goes out and shines in the first 2-4 games and the 9ers are undefeated. It would take a pretty big set to bench your undefeated QB who is playing very well. I wouldn’t want to be in KSs seat

    1. Coach,
      I believe that we both had this convo a couple of weeks ago.
      Lance (if he starts the season) has to play lights out and leave no doubt that he is better than Purdy.
      I’m only leaning towards Purdy based on what I’ve seen from him. I can’t go with Trey until he actually shows that he’s that guy.

  9. The odds are very highly in favor of Purdy being ready at the start of the season, in which case he will be the starter. It’s too soon to tell who will be #2 and #3. Anything else is just speculation.

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