It's been a long, hot summer, but the dog days are over.
As the 49ers begin their preseason against the Raiders on Sunday, here are three things I'm looking forward to more than anything else.
The return of Trey Lance
By the time the game kicks off on Sunday afternoon, it will have been 329 days since we last saw Trey Lance in a game for the 49ers. Since he was drafted in 2021 it's been hurry-up-and-wait, and people on both sides of the argument are tired of it.
Whether you think the 49ers have been fair to Trey or not, this game has got to be his Super Bowl. If he's going to salvage his chances with the 49ers (or create some with another team), Lance has to crush it on Sunday. Regardless of who he's out there with, the fact that he's coming off a major injury, or his overhauled mechanics, Trey simply has to look good in a real football game if he's going to make something of his NFL career.
The situation is far from ideal because the 49ers butchered his development, but there's nothing Lance can do about that now. He needs to take his career by the horns and force people to give him more opportunities.
I want to see if he looks more comfortable in the pocket. I want to see if he has adjusted to the speed of NFL defenders and steps up in the pocket to avoid pass rushers rather than trying to escape around the edge of the defense. What do his mechanics looks like when defenders are bearing down on him? Will he be able to stick to the new throwing motion in the heat of the moment? What kinds of shape do his passes have? Is he layering the ball to receivers or will most passes be lasers?
I could go on, but you get the point. I want to see it all, basically, because we haven't really been able to see anything since his name was called by Roger Goodell three Aprils ago.
Watching the 49ers third round picks play football
Ty Davis-Price and Danny Gray combined for 36 touches last season, so to say they've been disappointments is an understatement.
In the case of TDP, things seem to have turned around so far this season. Both Kyle Shanahan and run game coordinator Chris Foerster have heaped praise on Davis-Price, and claim he looks like a different person.
"I think he's taken a huge jump since last year," Shanahan said recently, "I mean just the conditioning that he put in in phase one and two, what he did these 40 days away. Just how good he was the first day we saw him in terms of his stamina, how he's running, understanding the offense, and what we want out of him more. I thought he had a great OTAs and he's come back and he's even having a better training camp.”
Chances are the 49ers are going to need at least three running backs this season, and we already know that Elijah Mitchell can't be counted on to stay healthy. Someone is going to have to step up, and while there's always a chance an undrafted free agent makes a leap like Jordan Mason, it sure would be nice if a guy they took in round three could actually play.
As far as Danny Gray, the praise hasn't been quite as plentiful, but Shanahan still gave him a little love.
“I think he's having a real good camp. He put the work in phase one, two and three. He was able to get through OTAs working hard and not having an injury. And he obviously spent the 40 days away well because he's catching the ball, he’s in real good shape, and he's been out there very consistently."
Not exactly high praise, but Shanahan is notoriously tough on his wide receivers, so anything complimentary is notable. Gray missed Thursday's joint practice with soreness, but as far as we know he should be out there on Sunday.
Gray's speed would bring a new dimension to the offense that they really haven't had since the team finished its roster overhaul in 2019. I remember drooling over the possibilities when Gray caught this pass from Trey Lance in last year's preseason. While Brock Purdy doesn't have the arm to fully take advantage of what Gray brings to the table, just the threat of that speed alone will help open things up for Deebo, Kittle, and Aiyuk underneath.
I get it, I promise. I know that most kickers are interchangeable. Levin Black already explained why we shouldn't expect too much of Jake Moody this year, even if he ends up being a great player. I understand all of that.
I don't care. I still want to see Jake Moody go out there from like 65 yards away and unleash that bazooka of a right leg I've been hearing about all camp.
The 49ers took a lot of crap for drafting Moody where they did, and while one successful preseason game won't dispel any of the criticism, it would still be a nice win for the team in the short term. Despite what some of you may think of me, I do want to see things work out for the 49ers. I like seeing my team stack wins, anywhere they can get them.