When Trey Lance takes the field for OTAs next week he’ll look different — and throw more efficiently — than the version of Lance who began last year’s spring practices.
So say Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and Jeff Christensen, the private quarterbacks coach who analyzed Lance’s throwing motion and worked with him earlier in the offseason. In a phone interview with The Athletic this week, Christensen said Lance’s biggest breakthrough came when he stood behind his most famous client, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and watched him throw.
“I said, ‘Watch this. Watch what he does here,’” Christensen recounted. “It was something I was telling him to do that he wasn’t quite doing. And then he saw Patrick apply it perfectly. And I think that visual buy-in, that mental buy-in, helped him past that mental hump.”
“And to his credit he just kept getting better,” he continued. “(Over) the last seven days, every day was a substantial jump.”
Accuracy has been an issue for Lance since the 49ers drafted him No. 3 in 2021. He’s completed just 54.9 percent of his passes over his first two seasons, albeit with one of his four starts occurring in uncommonly wet and sloppy conditions in Chicago. Still, that percentage was close to his 54.7 percent mark during the 2022 training camp, which trailed Brock Purdy (69.3 percent) and Nate Sudfeld (73.5 percent).
Purdy is expected to be the team’s starter in 2023. But he’s currently recovering from elbow surgery and the spring practices will be led by Lance, Sam Darnold and newcomer Brandon Allen.
Shanahan noted that injuries have played a big role in Lance’s delivery. He broke his right index finger in the 49ers’ preseason finale in 2021, which affected him the rest of his rookie season and which bled into the spring period last year. He was making progress as a thrower when the regular season began, but then suffered a broken ankle in the first quarter of Week 2, ending his season.
The finger and ankle are no longer issues.
“He was able to get such a better base in these last two months that I think Trey is the best that we’ve (seen) him right now,” Shanahan said earlier this month. “Yeah, we’ve got to get into OTAs and practice, but when you watch his feet, his timing, how he’s throwing the ball, he’s in such a better place now than he was last year at this time.”
Christensen said Lance’s retooled motion also has addressed another long-running issue: arm soreness