SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Niners said there will be days like this. There will be days like this, the Niners said.
Freshly named sophomore and starting quarterback Trey Lance had a rough day at training camp in San Francisco on Friday morning, but no one here is pressing the panic button just yet.
“There will always be ups and downs. I’m more worried at this stage about how we react,” Lance told me after practice. “I thought it was a bit sloppy today from my side. But we will keep improving. It’s only day three so we have a lot of work to do.”
At the start of team drills, Lance appeared to throw a pass slightly past tight end George Kittle which was caught by second-year safety Talanoa Hufanga. A few plays later, a deep ball intended for Ray-Ray McCloud hung in the clouds, and good coverage from Charvarius Ward helped him go incomplete.
Later, another pass intended for Kittle was left incomplete when the tight end appeared to slip and fall when the ball was released. Lance was high on a touchdown pass to Kittle with cornerback Emmanuel Moseley in cover. And finally, Lance’s start-and-stop throw aimed at Brandon Aiyuk came in like a wounded duck that floated so much, Ward couldn’t judge him well enough to get what should have been an interception.
Today’s question is one that can be repeated throughout camp: how much rep does Lance need on offense versus how much better defense is?
At this point, it’s hard to say. The defense could easily be the best in the NFL. Nick Bosa can destroy any game at any time. Fred Warner appeared to get two TFLs on rushing attempts during team drills. The Niners have a great defensive backfield with depth to spare.
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People I talk to here tell me that Lance had a great spring and summer and he’s gotten better at offensive and huddle. Deebo Samuel should be on the field soon with his new contract (more details below), and the offensive line is going through a bit of musical chairs right now.
If Lance is having trouble training in a camp before the electrodes light up, no one here cares. Lance won the opportunity to drive the car here, and I asked him why he believed the organization had such confidence in a young quarterback taking over from a playoff contender.
“I’m confident in myself, but I guess that’s a question for those guys,” Lance said. “They know I’m backing them and I know they’re backing me 100%. So I’m excited to start this year. I’m going to do everything I can to be as prepared as possible in week 1 and even the pre- season I’ll be ready to go.
There is a great sense of optimism here that Samuel’s contract extension will happen in the coming days. The prevailing thought was that Samuel would wait for fellow WR DK Metcalf to complete his deal before signing with the Niners. Metcalf’s deal included a record signing bonus of $30 million, and now Samuel has a new mark to hit. Samuel and his agent will want a “win” in this deal, whether it’s an average annual value topping Tyreek Hill’s $30 million AAV, or a signing bonus that eclipses Tyreek Hill’s. Samuel, or record cash flow in the first three years of the agreement.
Kyle Shanahan loves this roster more than any he’s had in his six years in San Francisco, but there’s a clear weakness inside the offensive line. Alex Mack’s retirement was no surprise, but the team still needs Jake Brendel or Daniel Brunskill to land that job. Brunskill could also get the right guard position, and San Fran had to send off Jaylon Moore at right tackle early in camp as Mike McGlinchey returns from a quad injury. The Niners feel good about Aaron Banks at left guard, but he’s still just a second-year player.
San Francisco would like to trade Jimmy Garoppolo to a non-NFC West team and get a draft pick in return. I would like to have eight hours of uninterrupted sleep per night. Everyone is doing and saying the right things here when it comes to the former franchise QB, but there’s a very real possibility the Niners will just have to release Garoppolo before the final roster cuts when his 26 cap, $95 million will be blocked. Right now there isn’t a team that would reasonably trade for Garoppolo (and his contract), but that could change as quarterback competitions unfold around the league and/or key QBs get injured. . Still, people I talk to in the league say if they needed Garoppolo, they would just wait for the Niners to cut him and make a deal for him. It’s a bit of a gamble, sure, but it makes sense. Shanahan even repeated Friday that the team will do what’s in the best interest of the organization, and that means reasonably cutting it and getting the cap space.
I know I know. It’s the “best shape of my life” season at the start of every NFL training camp. I had been told to come to camp to watch Javon Kinlaw and how he had improved his body, and seeing him walk out of a meeting room early Friday morning, the change was evident. Kinlaw seems to have turned some of his sweetness into lean muscle. He will soon return to practice after a knee injury and he will play a key role in what the DeMeco Ryans defense is trying to do this year.
The 49ers have recently experienced a fairly significant brain drain in various coaching positions. They lost former DC Robert Saleh to the Jets and former OC Mike McDaniel to the Dolphins, and Ryans thinks he’ll be the next coordinator to get a head coaching job soon. John Lynch has assembled an impressive staff in the bay, but his group could be next. Former Niners manager Martin Mayhew is now the general manager in Washington, and AGM Adam Peters and director of player personnel Ran Carthon have secured interviews with the general manager in recent years and should get their photos very soon.