Trey Lance has suited up for just one game since mid-January of 2020.
On April 29, an NFL team will invest a high first-round draft pick in a 20-year-old quarterback who has taken the field just once in the past 15 1/2 months.
After leading North Dakota State to the FCS national championship on Jan. 11, 2020, Lance’s last season of college football was cut short after one game.
He declared early for the 2021 NFL Draft, rather than take part in NDSU's ongoing spring season.
So what did Lance do during those months in order to improve as a quarterback?
“That was the difficult part,” said his private coach, Quincy Avery, on 49ers Talk. “We had to get really creative.”
Lance took advantage of Avery’s work with NFL players to devise a weekly routine of installing game plans as if he were a professional starting quarterback.
Lance’s work consisted of working on base down plays on Mondays, third downs on Tuesdays and red zone on Wednesday. On Thursday, he would review the work from the previous days of the week, as well as study and prepare to face an opposition’s blitz package.
“To the best of our ability, we did everything we could to give him every advantage,” Avery said. “(But) game reps are game reps, and you can’t make those up.”
Lance is one of the quarterbacks the 49ers are considering with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson are expected to go first and second to Jacksonville and the New York Jets, respectively.
Lance, Justin Fields and Mac Jones are the candidates to be chosen at No. 3 overall. Jones played 13 games last season, while Fields played eight games.
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch led the 49ers contingents to watch each of their pro days.
Whichever team ends up with Lance will have a dual-threat quarterback whose final full season of college football consisted of throwing 28 touchdowns with no interceptions, as well as rushing for 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Avery said those skills fit perfectly into today’s NFL.
“You got to be able to extend plays in the pocket,” Avery said. “It doesn’t always need to be scrambling. When it’s time to run, you got to run.
“When you can stay in the pocket and create a little bit of space, you give your team an advantage so you can throw the ball down the field. That’s the thing that we had to excel at. And something we spend a ton of time working on and developing.”
North Dakota State devised a portion of its ground game around Lance’s skills, including quarterback power run plays.
But Avery extols Lance’s ability to play a traditional brand of quarterback, too.
“They’re also calling play-action pass, drop-back, real field progressions,” Avery said. “He’s working through a number of reads, going from one to two to three. He’s doing those things at a high level, as well.
“So I’d say Trey Lance is a true threat at the quarterback position. He has an ability to carve you up from the pocket, and if he’s given the opportunity and the space to run, he will also hurt you in a bad way there.”
Avery, who has also worked closely with Fields, said he believes both quarterbacks are equally adept at making plays in a variety of different ways.
“Doesn’t it make sense to have a guy who can do everything rather than a guy who can do just one thing?” Avery asked.