The single most frustrating part about Trey Lance's career with the 49ers is how long we've had to wait to see it actually start to play out. Now that Lance is back on the field, it turns out waiting is still his biggest problem.
"[Aggressive throws] are things I want to see more of," Kyle Shanahan said Monday when talking about Trey Lance, "Not picks and bad decisions, but just playing a little bit faster, a little bit more aggressive."
Lance clearly looked hesitant to trust what he was seeing against the Raiders on Sunday night. He double-clutched on all three of the plays on the first possession, and passed up a couple of NFL-open receivers as the game continued.
In fairness, not all of these decisions were bad. Shanahan himself absolved Trey of blame on two of his four sacks, and Lance had gone 329 days between real game reps. It's natural that he would would be a little hesitant to trust his eyes and throw the ball on time.
Perhaps not all of that hesitancy can be ascribed to the long layoff. Remember, Fred Warner said that he had to pull Lance aside in 2021 and tell him to be more aggressive in practice with the scout team because the defense wasn't getting the work it needed. To his credit, he then adjusted, but clearly it's not his default setting. In his entire 19 game college career at North Dakota State, he only threw one interception.
It seems to me like the constant stop-and-start nature of Lance's NFL career has prevented Trey from adjusting to the speed of the game at the professional level. In college, there was no penalty for being extra cautious with the football because Lance was the best player on the field. He could extend the play in the pocket or just take off and run if he missed throwing windows.
In the NFL, that's not the case. Lance is no longer the most athletic player in the game and guys will never be as open as they were at North Dakota State. That's part of the adjustment that all players have to make once they're drafted into the league. Trey's adjustment is bigger than most because he played at a lower level of college football than most top draft picks. Compound that with the fact that he's started and finished three games since 2021 and it's easy to see why he hasn't made the leap that so many of us are anxious to see.
I also wonder if part of Lance's hesitation comes from the fact that he's never has the freedom to fail. In 2021 he was competing with Jimmy Garoppolo to be the starter on a team with Super Bowl aspirations. Hard to just let it rip when you feel like an interception could cost you the job. In 2022 he was named the starter, but Jimmy Garoppolo was also still on the roster and eventually signed with less than two weeks to go before the start of the regular season. Another situation where the replacement is looking right over your shoulder. Now in 2023, Lance again finds himself in another quarterback competition, this time against Sam Darnold for the backup job.
It sure would be nice if the team would take him off the tightrope and just let him exhale a little bit. "Hey, Trey, you're our backup QB. Don't worry about anything out there, just let it rip."
Is that so hard? Apparently for Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers, yes.
Unfortunately for Trey, that isn't going to happen any time soon. His only option at this point is to just take off the governor and let it rip. If he ends up throwing interceptions and becoming QB3, at least he went down swinging. If nothing else, he could accelerate his learning curve and ultimately end up with an organization willing to give him the space to grow into the quarterback so many people think he could be.