Trey Lance is throwing ‘the best’ the 49ers have seen, according to Kyle Shanahan

May 15, 2023, 2:09 PM | Updated: May 16, 2023, 10:29 am

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass during the first quarter of a preseason game...

HOUSTON, TEXAS - AUGUST 25: Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers looks to pass during the first quarter of a preseason game against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium on August 25, 2022 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

(Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images)

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance is set to return to organized football activities in late May after a grueling rehab process over the last eight months.

Suffering a fractured ankle in Week 2 of the 2022 season, Lance has been in and out of the operating room, with two surgeries on his right leg to re-stabilize the tendons and bones torn apart due to injury. But that wasn’t all that he was battling through the last two years.

Lance suffered a hairline fracture of his right index finger during the 2021 preseason. An injury less significant on the surface, the mobile QB struggled to make any headwind on his development as a passer. That injury carried into the 2022 regular season, unable to grip the ball properly on every drop-back.

Now more than a year and a half removed, his progression as a thrower has shown in spades to the coaching staff this offseason.

“He spent a whole year throwing without a bent finger which changed everything and shows the toughness of the kid that he never complained about it,” coach Kyle Shanahan said last week at the Dwight Clark Legacy Series event. “He tried to adjust so he could be out there.”

While a fractured ankle is still significant (especially for a mobile QB), it isn’t seen as a long-term concern for Shanahan and the 49ers.

Fully cleared in March, the North Dakota State alum has been moving around well, developing a much more solid base in his throwing stance thanks to some new mechanics. Trey Lance has spent this offseason working in Texas with league MVP Patrick Mahomes and his throwing coach, and the results have been a sight for sore eyes to say the least.

“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 stated. “Yeah, we 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.”

Despite the progression though, fellow QB Brock Purdy is still seen as the team’s de facto starter if the 2023 season began today. Coming on for the injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13, Purdy went on to win eight consecutive games before tearing his UCL in his right elbow in the NFC Championship.

Regardless, Shanahan said that Lance’s spot behind Purdy shouldn’t be seen as a negative at this time.

“I understand the unusual circumstances of when you trade up for a quarterback with the third pick in the draft how you’re expecting him to be the man for a long time,” Shanahan said about Trey Lance. “And we did expect that, and I still believe that he can be. You’re also not expecting the last pick in the draft to come in and play at that level.”

While Purdy is likely four months away from being fully cleared from offseason elbow surgery, the former Mr. Irrelevant is seen as the team’s No. 1 because of his play on the field in 2022.

Victories equal starting status in football, and Purdy proved that he was the guy in the moment.

“Then you watch the tape and just try to see why,” Shanahan added. “It was legit. He played at an extremely high level. Our team got a lot better when he got in there…When you talk about, ‘What does that say about Trey?’ I think it’s so unfair to Trey. What it does say is what Brock did in his eight games. And what Brock did was really damn good.”

Now the 49ers begin another offseason in a similar spot: Figuring out who will start Week 1.

The Red & Gold were ready to go with Lance, appointing him as the successor to Garoppolo for 2022. A season-ending injury happened, unfortunately, further preventing him from breaking out on the field.

But that’s okay for San Francisco, eager to see how the QB room shakes out with Lance, Purdy and newcomer Sam Darnold, in the upcoming season.

“We were ready to go with Trey,” Shanahan stated. “And Trey was going to go through a lot [last] year, and I believe he would have gotten to a level where he did similar stuff [to Purdy]. He missed that [opportunity]. Brock came in and did it. Now, I truly believe Trey can go do that. But Brock’s already done it. And that’s a very good thing for us to have.

“We know what we have [in Purdy]. I truly believe in my heart what Trey can be. It still takes time and you’ve got to go do it. In the meantime, we have a guy sitting here who already has done it. That’s a very good thing for the Niners.”

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