SANTA CLARA — It would appear that a change at quarterback would present a huge challenge for the 49ers' coaching staff. But they have been preparing for the possibility for months.
Head coach Kyle Shanahan and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel spent the entire offseason coming up with a plan to integrate two very different quarterbacks into their offense.
While the offensive brain trust knew Jimmy Garoppolo would be the primary man under center, they also wanted Trey Lance to get valuable reps. Fast forward to Week 5 and the rookie may be leading the offense on the field for their matchup against the undefeated Arizona Cardinals with Garoppolo’s status in question due to a calf injury.
Prior to Garoppolo’s calf injury that occurred early in the 49ers' Week 4 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, Lance had taken just seven snaps in the first three games. Shanahan and McDaniel designed packages specifically for the mobile quarterback, but they also made sure the rookie was practicing the same plays as the veteran.
“That's what you try to do in the offseason is build an offensive system that flourishes everyone,” McDaniel said Thursday. “Then you have specific things that are tailored to people's skillsets. For instance Trey Lance's touchdown pass to Deebo Samuel, that was a play that Jimmy repped all week. So, there's a lot of overlap.”
With the gameplan set for either quarterback to lead the offense, there is very little change for the remaining 10 players on the field. Since Week 1 players have divulged that at times they don’t notice when the 49ers make a change under center.
“It hasn’t been that different,” McDaniel said. “Which is why when Jimmy Garoppolo goes out and Trey Lance goes in, the rest of our players, whether the plays work or not, are decisive and you can tell it’s cohesive because it is one system, so it’s not too crazy abnormal.”
Now the task for Shanahan and McDaniel is to help Lance be as prepared as possible for the possibility of starting Sunday. With Garoppolo sitting out of practice on both Wednesday and Thursday, the rookie took all of the first-team reps.
There have been limited adjustments to the offensive plan this week after the coaching staff took the offseason to prepare for all possible scenarios.
“The toughest part was in the offseason,” McDaniel said, “Trying to make sure that our system highlighted both players, but also allowed the rest of our players to know what to do. You can't put in too much offense or two different offenses, otherwise, you wouldn't be good at anything and your players would be spread thin. So that was the toughest part systematically.”