SANTA CLARA — Rookie quarterback Trey Lance did not stray far from the pocket in his first three practices of 49ers training camp.
On Saturday, he showcased the skills that convinced the 49ers to select him with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
“It’s funny because we’ve all been kind of waiting for it,” 49ers right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We’ve been waiting to see when he does take off, how it goes. And I think we three or four read zones, which is probably three or four more than we’ve ever done in my three years here.”
In his only full season as the starter at North Dakota State, Lance threw 28 touchdowns without an interception. But he was known just as much for his running as his passing.
Lance gained 1,100 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground in leading the Bison to a 16-0 season and an FCS national championship in 2019. He had 166 yards and a touchdown in NDSU's championship game victory over James Madison.
But the 49ers wanted him to work on other areas early in camp. Lance did not break the line of scrimmage on any plays until his fourth practice of training camp.
On Saturday, Lance took off repeatedly on scrambles and designed quarterback runs.
The 49ers gave an appreciative crowd of supporters during the open practice the first glimpse of how Lance can be utilized early in his NFL career.
Coach Kyle Shanahan said this week that veteran Jimmy Garoppolo enters training camp as the unchallenged starter. But after four practices, Lance has shown that it might not be long before he belongs in the team’s quarterback conversation.
“We’re lucky to have him here,” McGlinchey said. “It’s only going to continue to push people to be better. The sky’s the limit for our football team with both him and Jimmy here.”
Lance continued to throw the ball well, too.
He completed seven of 12 pass attempts. But what stood out the most was the 49ers’ obvious emphasis on him running the ball. Lance had three scrambles and three keepers on read options among his 24 reps of 11-on-11 work.
Even the 49ers’ defense benefited from Lance’s unique abilities. First-year coordinator DeMeco Ryans will have to prepare down the road for NFC West quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray. Lance’s running ability is already in that class.
“When those put those plays in — zone-read type plays, QB runs — it’s very helpful for us as a defense so when we do face teams like that during the season, it’s not the first time we’re preparing for it,” Ryans said.
“Trey broke out today on a couple. He’s doing an excellent job of running those plays.”
Meanwhile, Garoppolo’s day included two interceptions as he completed eight of 14 pass attempts. His best throw was a nicely layered pass to tight end Ross Dwelley between linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair and safety Tavon Wilson.
Here are other notes and observations from the 49ers’ practice on Saturday:
-- Linebacker Fred Warner showed his coverage skills when he read Garoppolo’s eyes and broke in front of Richie James to intercept a Garoppolo pass along the left side. Warner returned it for what would’ve been a touchdown.
Later in practice, Garoppolo stepped up in the pocket, double-clutched and came up short with a deep pass intended for Deebo Samuel. Cornerback Jason Verrett located the ball, came back and made the interception.
— Tight end George Kittle did not practice. The team said he was given “a maintenance day.”
— Linebacker Dre Greenlaw experienced a blister on his foot and did not practice. The 49ers have their first day off from training camp on Sunday.
— Quarterback Nate Sudfeld had a good day as he competes with Josh Rosen for the No. 3 job. He completed six of six pass attempts. Samuel had five receptions on the day, three of which came from Sudfeld.
— Rosen completed two of his three attempts, including a pass intended for Mohamed Sanu that deflected off his hands straight to tight end Ross Dwelley.
— Receiver-turned-tight end Jordan Matthews was issued No. 88 after signing a one-year contract with the club. He did not catch any passes during 11-on-11 work, and struggled to achieve separation during a one-on-one period.
-- The 49ers released veteran wide receiver Bennie Fowler to make room for Matthews on the roster. The 49ers are a bit short-handed at tight end with MyCole Pruitt expected to miss time with a calf injury.
— Second-year wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk has gotten off to a great start at camp. He caught five passes on Saturday.
— In one-on-one pass-rush drills, the highlights were defensive lineman Kevin Givens’ spin move against guard Laken Tomlinson and Kentavius Street handling rookie guard Aaron Banks.
— Defensive end Arden Key had another good day, as he competes for a job in the D-line rotation. In addition to supplying pressure on the QB, Key also forced a fumble of running back JaMycal Hasty and scooped it up for a return TD.
— Edge rusher Jordan Willis had two would-be sacks. Willis is allowed to take part in training camp and preseason games before he serves a six-game suspension at the start of the regular season for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.