Trey Lance has shown some promise and flashed his elite talent through two preseason games, but 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan knows there is another hurdle the rookie must overcome before he can overtake Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback.
"It's not just knowing it from being able to write it down on the board, and being able to answer any questions and pass any test we give him," Shanahan said Thursday on KNBR. "He's been good at that since we got him. He studies real hard in everything. But it's going in the heat of battle versus NFL defenses and having to react, and get the ball to the right spots, and know where to go.
"That's really hard to do [for] rookie quarterbacks, and that's what's been a big challenge. That's a big challenge for all rookie quarterbacks because the NFL moves so fast. There is not as much plays. You don't realize how every play matters, how even the competition is week in and week out. There's no easy teams to open up against. Every game, whether it's the worst team in the league or the best team in the league, they all have a chance to beat you."
Lance's powerful arm and athleticism have been on display through the first two preseason games, but he also has been sacked a handful of times. As he continues to master the playbook, ideally the game will slow down for the 21-year-old and he will be able to process everything at a quicker rate.
His traditional stats are a bit misleading in the preseason, as Lance has completed 13 of 28 passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception. Lance has had a remarkable seven passes dropped per Pro Football Focus, but the rookie has taken responsibility for several of those as being off target.
One mechanical issue that has been highlighted in Lance's two appearances so far has been his high velocity on passes, no matter the down or distance. One of those dropped passes in last week's win over the Los Angeles Chargers was intercepted, and Lance acknowledged he could have put more touch onto some of his throws.
“The one to Deebo, the one to Mo (Sanu), those are both on me for sure,” he said. “If I put it in a spot where they can’t drop it, then it makes it a lot easier on them, makes it a lot easier on me, and obviously they can catch and run.”
The good news for the 49ers is, they've got Jimmy Garoppolo set as the likely Week 1 starter. Garoppolo now has nearly four full years in Shanahan's offense, and has led the team to a Super Bowl in his lone fully healthy campaign.
Lance will continue to work hard to unseat Garoppolo, but until he proves he can perform in a regular season game better than the incumbent, expect the rookie to remain No. 2 on the depth chart.