SANTA CLARA — Jimmy Garoppolo has been in the 49ers’ offensive system for nearly four years.
Rookie Trey Lance is still in the cramming stage of his NFL career.
Of course, Garoppolo should have a strong grasp of his responsibilities. Entering the 49ers’ third game, coach Kyle Shanahan said Garoppolo had been on-point with where he should be going with the football.
So how was Lance with his assignments during his second-half stint against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 4?
“He did a decent job,” Shanahan said on Wednesday.
Lance took all the first-team practice snaps as the 49ers began preparations to face the NFL’s only unbeaten team, the Arizona Cardinals, on Sunday in Glendale, Arizona.
Garoppolo’s status for the game is iffy after sustaining a contusion and strain to his right calf muscle. Garoppolo said he is unlikely to be 100 percent by game day, so if he were cleared to play, he would have to battle through the physical discomfort.
Lance appears to be in line to make the first start of his NFL career. And the big question is whether he is ready for the assignment.
Shanahan pointed out that there is a lot more to playing the quarterback position than receiving the play call, identifying the defense and throwing the ball to the receiver who is No. 1 in the progression.
“There’s pass rushes involved, there's blitzes, there’s disguises, there's people that don't get open,” Shanahan said. “So you have to be able to see all that and understand if it's automatic, you should always hit the automatic plays. That means you have an offense that you know where the ball's supposed to go and what the play is for.
“Do you go to number two and get rid of it or do you try to scramble right away? Those are all things that are options. They're not options for everybody, but those are things that are options for Trey and that's the stuff he’s working through.”
The 49ers made a trade a month before the draft to move up nine spots. They sent the Miami Dolphins two future first-round picks and a third-rounder.
Lance was the pick after quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson because of the combination of his passing ability, running prowess and overall intelligence and mental makeup.
Unlike Garoppolo, Lance is fully capable of turning a designed pass play into a long run. The balancing act is to make sure Lance does not give up on a play and start to run when it still would be the best option for him to look downfield for an open receiver.
“You never tell a guy, ‘Hey, if No. 1’s not open, you just stop and you run,’” Shanahan said. “If someone isn't capable of doing all that stuff, eventually you do tell someone something like that. But that's also pretty easy to stop, too. There's a feel to that.
“Jimmy, it's not like he only runs when all five eligibles are covered. Sometimes he'll see a crease in the front and they're not holding the lanes too well in the pocket. And I think you guys see Jimmy move the chains with his legs. So that's not the No. 1 thing on his mind. I'm not trying to put in a lot of quarterback draws and things like that. But no matter what type of quarterback you are, you better be able to move the chains with your legs here and there.”
Lance has played 46 snaps this season, including 39 in the second half of the 49ers’ 28-21 loss to the Seahawks after Garoppolo was unable to continue due to his injury.
He has attempted 19 passes, completing 10 of them for 162 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He has rushed 11 times for 44 yards and a touchdown.
“He’s developing,” Shanahan said.
Lance entered each of the 49ers’ first four games with a specific package of plays that could be deployed at any time throughout the game.
He was asked to do a lot more during his extended playing time against the Seahawks, and Shanahan seemed pleased with how Lance responded to the challenge.
“I thought when he got thrown into battle here, just running the offense and not really his specific plays,” Shanahan said. “I thought he got more comfortable as the game went. Especially going home and watching the tape after the game, I thought there was a lot of encouraging stuff.”