George Kittle Is the Key to Trey Lance’s Niners Transition

San Francisco 49ers, Trey Lance, George Kittle

Getty George Kittle catching a ball.

Trey Lance has a staunch supporter in San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle.

Speaking on the team’s on-field development with their new signal-caller under center to the assembled media in Santa Clara, Kittle endorsed the North Dakota State product’s even-handed approach to playing quarterback, never getting too high after a big throw or too down after an interception.

“I’m not worried about Trey,” Kittle said, per Matt Maiocco of NBC Sports. “He had good plays and he had bad plays. It is what it is.

While some will call Kittle’s words as pro-Niners propaganda, politicking for his guy because he has no other real option, but what would that really gain?

Kittle’s success will largely be based on Lance’s, as he can’t exactly throw the ball to himself; why talk down on his efforts or worse, suggest that Jimmy Garoppolo could do it better, when his job should be to lift Lance up and be part of the support system that makes the second-year signal caller better both on and off the field?

Fortunately, San Francisco has set things up so that Kittle can help to do just that for Lance.

The Niners Are Attempting a Near-Unprecedented Re-Tooling

Any time a team attempts to field both a Super Bowl contender and transition to a young, highly drafted quarterback, there are going to be bumps along the road.

Sure, occasionally, there will be a quarterback like Joe Burrow, who produced everything a quarterback could dream of in the NCAA before jumping to the professional level as a first overall pick and immediately playing in the Super Bowl by Year 2. But those players are aberrations. There have only been seven quarterbacks in NFL history to start a Super Bowl as a second-year pro, and the feat hadn’t been accomplished pre-Burrow since all the way back in 2013 when Russell Wilson led the Seattle Seahawks to the 2014 Super Bowl.

Those odds aren’t exactly encouraging, but then again, the Niners are not your run-of-the-mill team either. They field a run-heavy, idiosyncratic offense that is built on YAC and thus should expect a good bit less from Lance than the Bengals expected from Burrow. Especially with performers like Deebo Samuel, Kyle Juszczyk, and Kittle turning nothing into something across the middle of the field.

The San Francisco 49ers Have a Very QB-Friendly Offense

In 2021, the Niners won in the passing game by getting the ball out of their quarterback’s hands quickly and letting their playmakers make plays. The team had two of the top-15 players in total yards after the catch in Samuel and Kittle and three of the top-50 performers, with Brandon Aiyuk coming in 43rd overall, which is a feat no other team matched.

Of the eight Niners players who caught at least 10 balls in 2021, four picked up more yards after the catch than before it, with Kittle coming just 11 yards shy of joining that club. Because the Niners have schemed up an offense designed to get players open in space, all the quarterback really has to do is read the defense, hit his marks, and deliver the ball on time in the right spot for the play to develop as it should.

Fortunately, Garoppolo’s average time to throw in 2021 made that proposition easy. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Garoppolo took just 2.67 seconds to get the ball out of his hands last season, which ranks fifth league-wide behind only Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tua Tagovailoa.

While Lance likely won’t hit that same average time to throw, as he’ll likely have his number artificially inflated by running around behind the line looking to make plays, if he can learn from Jimmy G’s perpetuity for getting the ball out of his hands quickly, it’ll go a long way in easing his transition from the FCS level to the NFL.

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