All eyes will be on two men when the 49ers starting training camp at the end of July: Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance.
The 49ers drafted Lance with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft, with plans to have him take over for Garoppolo when he was deemed ready. Garoppolo has handled Lance's arrival with a diplomatic attitude, setting a proper tone for what the 49ers hope is a return to Super Bowl contention this season.
While coach Kyle Shanahan has said it would take a lot for Lance to beat Garoppolo out for the starting job in camp, the 29-year-old veteran and 21-year-old rookie are set to compete to be the trigger man of the 49ers' prolific offense.
While heated quarterback competitions can impact a team in a number of ways, 49ers legend Jerry Rice believes only good can come out of the battle between Garoppolo and Lance, remembering what famed coach Bill Walsh thought about internal competition.
"I think there is nothing wrong with a good battle," Rice told NBC Sports Bay Area at the American Century Championship. "That was something Bill Walsh always wanted. The guy that handles the situation the best is going to be the guy to get on that football field. I don't know what the situation is going to be, or how competitive it's going to be, or if Trey Lance, if they are going to let him sit for a little while where he can gain all that knowledge and then get ready to take on that starting job."
Garoppolo has welcomed Lance with open arms, remembering how he felt coming into New England as the man drafted to take the reins from Tom Brady.
Garoppolo, who has missed 23 games in the last three seasons, admits the offseason trade talk has fueled him to come into the season hungrier than ever.
"You can’t listen to everything but you know when something real does happen you have to react to it properly,” Garoppolo told KNBR's "Murph & Mac". “I want to say it’s just white noise but it definitely motivates me, I’m not gonna lie. That’s the competitor in all of us. You hear things like that, at the end of the day there’s only one quarterback out there but you want to go compete and do whatever you can to be that guy, so it’s kind of a motivator in the back of your head."
He admitted that he thought about asking for a trade when the 49ers made their blockbuster move up the board to draft Lance, but instead opted to compete for the job that has been his for the past three seasons.
“As long as I have that opportunity and I’m given a chance like that, that’s all you can really ask for as an athlete or anyone in a line of work, you know, you just want an opportunity to go put your best foot out there and put your best self out there and that’s all I’m asking for," Garoppolo said. "So Kyle and John are giving me that opportunity, and it’s my job to go earn it now every day in practice, every day on the field, weight room, whatever it is just go out there and be that guy.”
Lance impressed during his first rookie minicamp and OTAs, but he likely will need to make great strides between now and the start of camp to truly challenge Garoppolo.
The North Dakota State product has top-level arm talent and elite athleticism, but could benefit from a year to develop without the pressure that comes with piloting a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
In his lone full season at the helm for the 49ers, Garoppolo proved he has the ability to operate Shanahan's offense at a high level. But Garoppolo will need to stay on the field to maintain a hold on the starting job this season. If bad injury luck befalls him in 2021, it could spell the end of his tenure as the 49ers' starting QB.
The 49ers enter the 2021 season primed to return to Super Bowl contention. In Rice's eyes, a training camp quarterback battle only will strengthen what he believes is an already sturdy foundation.
Make sure to tune into coverage of the American Century Championship on NBCSN and NBC Bay Area this weekend: Friday: 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. on NBCSN Saturday: Noon to 3 p.m. on NBC Bay Area Sunday: Noon to 3 p.m. on NBC Bay Area