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It's official: Lance named 49ers' starting QB vs. Cardinals

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SANTA CLARA -- Ready or not, here he comes.

Rookie quarterback Trey Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the draft, will make his first NFL start Sunday when the 49ers travel to face the 4-0 Arizona Cardinals.

Coach Kyle Shanahan made the announcement Friday afternoon after the 49ers wrapped up their final full practice before traveling to face the Cardinals in Week 5 in Glendale, Arizona.

The 49ers ruled out starting quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo due to a calf injury. Also, the 49ers do not expect to have tight end George Kittle (calf) available for the game. He is listed as doubtful.

Garoppolo, who held onto his starting job despite Lance's strong training camp, sustained a bruised and strained right calf muscle in the first half of the 49ers' Week 4 game against the Seattle Seahawks. He was not able to play in the second half.

Garoppolo did not practice on Wednesday and Thursday, as he spent time behind the scenes to rehabilitate the injury. On Wednesday, Garoppolo said he would not be 100 percent, even if he were medically cleared to play.

Nate Sudfeld will be elevated from the practice squad to serve as the backup.

Lance will become the 11th quarterback in 49ers history to start a game as a rookie draft pick and the first since C.J. Beathard in 2017.

Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall draft pick of 2004, started his first game in Week 5. He completed just nine of 23 pass attempts with no touchdowns and four interceptions in a 28-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. He was also sacked five times.

 

Smith recently said he felt starting a game so early in his career set him back in his development.

"My first start, it was a disaster," Smith said on Sept. 27 in his role as an analyst for ESPN. "I had no business being out there."

The last time the 49ers won a game in a rookie quarterback's starting debut was in 1997 with Jim Druckenmiller. The 49ers beat the St. Louis Rams, 15-12. Druckenmiller threw one touchdown and three interceptions in his only NFL start.

Nick Mullens (2018), Colin Kaepernick (2012) and Jeff Garcia (1999) won their first starts with the 49ers but all had been in professional football for at least one season before those games. Among those three players, only Kaepernick, whose first start came in his second season, was a 49ers draft pick.

Lance played 39 snaps in the 49ers' loss last week to the Seahawks. The score was 7-7 at halftime. After the 49ers fell behind by 14 points, Lance hit Deebo Samuel on a 76-yard touchdown pass. He later threw an 8-yard scoring pass to Samuel late in the game to pull the 49ers to within seven points.

When Lance entered the lineup in Week 4, the 49ers had to make adjustments to their gameplan, which was designed for Garoppolo.

Lance took all of the first-team practice repetitions, and steps in with a gameplan tailored specifically to his skills, his strengths and weaknesses, to face the Cardinals.

He goes up against an Arizona defense that ranks 15th in overall defense (357.3 yards allowed per game), 11th against the pass (221.5) and 26th against the run (135.8).

RELATED: Lance faces balancing act when deciding to run from pocket

Lance's ability to run the ball could be a huge portion of the 49ers' game plan. In 17 games as a starter at North Dakota State, Lance rushed for 1,243 yards and 16 touchdowns.

Rookies Elijah Mitchell and Trey Sermon are likely to be the 49ers' top two running backs, while Lance adds the element of the quarterback-driven run game. Lance has carried 11 times for 44 yards and a touchdown thus far in his rookie season.

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