Kurtenbach: What should we expect from the Niners in 2022? Trey Lance will tell us in Minnesota

Kurtenbach: What should we expect from the Niners in 2022? Trey Lance will tell us in Minnesota

By Dieter Kurtenbach

There’s no need to play the Allen Iverson video. Yes, we are talking about practice.

Joint practice, in fact.

The 49ers are in Minnesota this week for two joint practices with the Vikings. A few hours from Trey Lance’s hometown of Marshall, the 49ers quarterback will have the biggest scimmages of his football life.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan has made no secret of his disdain for preseason games. He manifests this dislike in his vanilla tactics and limited rosters.

But Shanahan loves joint practices.

If he had it his way, the Niners wouldn’t play preseason games. They would only do joint practices with other teams.

He likes joint practices because it’s competitive but much more controlled than a game, even an exhibition.

He likes them because you can’t hit the quarterbacks, but you can use the whole playbook.

He likes them because when he goes deep into that playbook, trying something he might want to use in a game down the line, only one other team has it on film — not the whole league.

These are the practices where Lance will prove just how ready he is for the season. The second-year quarterback is the starter — there’s no questioning that — but will he be asked to game manage all season or will Shanahan feel comfortable enough with Lance to let it rip in Chicago in Week 1?

Either way, the 49ers will probably be fine. Even with their training camp injuries, this is a quality team that looks more than worthy of a playoff spot in January.

But if Lance can show in these two joint practices that he’s closer to his ceiling than his floor, it could change the Niners’ internal expectations — and send external expectations into hyperdrive.

In February, Lance was listed at 66-to-1 to win 2022 MVP by MGM Sportsbook.

At the end of last month, Lance was 40-to-1. And after his 73-yard touchdown throw in the Niners’ preseason win over the Packers, those odds had shortened to 30-to-1.

That’s still a long shot, but belief is permating the market and the media. ESPN columnist Bill Barnwell declared the Niners’ quarterback a possible “supernova” capable of doing what Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson did in 2018 and 2019, respectively — win MVP in their first seasons at the helm.

Meanwhile, at camp, the Niners’ quarterback has effectively alternated good and bad days. One day, he’s a future MVP and a Super Bowl winner. The next day, you’re looking at the side field, wondering if Jimmy Garoppolo — No. 4 on the Niners’ quarterback depth chart — could let bygones be bygones.

In the totality of what I have seen — 90-plus percent of his 11-on-11 throws at training camp — Lance has been more good than bad. Yes, the Niners are justified in starting him this season, as he should improve with more playing time, seeing as he has only made 389 throws in games that count since he started college.

But those snaps at training camp were against the Niners’ defense, and the Niners’ defense — when healthy — looks like it’ll be good — top-5 good.

The Vikings’ defense is competent, but no one expects it to be a Top-10 unit this year. They’re likely middle of the road — good enough to be good enough.

What happens when Shanahan takes off the training wheels and busts out the new, pistol-formation-heavy, read-option-based offense that he has shown hints of in camp?

(Shanahan won’t have to worry about former assistant, now-Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell stealing the plays — there’s no way he could run them with Kirk Cousins at the helm.)

What happens when Lance goes up against a defense that isn’t as talented, doesn’t know his tells, and isn’t ready for the read-option?

This is an incredible opportunity for Lance. It’s a formative one.

Two practices — untelevised but totally scripted — will tell us so much of what we need to know about the Niners and their enigmatic and new starting quarterback.

Source: Paradise Post

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