Kyle Shanahan Explains 49ers’ Questionable QB Practice Reps in OTAs

Trey Lance, San Francisco 49ers

Getty Trey Lance throwing for the San Francisco 49ers during training camp.

Heading into training camp, one of the biggest questions surrounding the San Francisco 49ers regarded how Kyle Shanahan would divvy up first-team reps between his top two quarterbacks, Sam Darnold and Trey Lance.

For a time, it appeared as though the duo would be afforded equal reps with the first-team offense, Shanahan’s plan as recently as March 28. But through the first two days of OTA practices, that hasn’t been the case, with Lance exclusively playing with the ones, Darnold with the twos and Brandon Allen taking whatever third-team reps were available.

Asked if there was a meaning to this decision, Shanahan rebuffed reporters and fans alike for attempting to read too much into the decision.

“No, it’ll even out,” Shanahan told reporters. “We’ll make sure to get that right. And the first team is kind of funny because there’s no O-line out there and most of our receivers are second and third team on the first team today, so I’m curious what everyone thinks first and second and third team is.”

Are the 49ers committing their summer to ensure Lance has every chance to win the QB1 position if Brock Purdy is unavailable for Week 1, or at least not lose the job to Darnold in his absence? Or is it simply too early to tell either way, as, per Shanahan, the 49ers aren’t playing behind an offensive line and they were mostly using depth offensive players regardless of which “team” was on the field?

The 49ers Changed Their QB Rep Strategy

Why is it so surprising to see Lance take all of the first-team reps for the 49ers through the first two days of offseason training activities? Because after signing Darnold in free agency, Shanahan declared that he expected to see both of his third-overall drafted quarterbacks receive first-team reps in OTAs.

“I don’t know yet. I mean, I do know,” Shanahan said. “I expect them both to get first-team reps. But I like to see them in Phase I. Then we’ll get them on the field in Phase II. In OTAs, I expect them both to get reps with the first team, but we’ll see how that goes.”

Will Shanahan’s more recent comments prove true and the reps even out over time, or has the veteran head coach seen something he likes in Lance – maybe his new throwing mechanics – that afforded him the nod moving forward?

Kyle Shanahan Compliments Sam Darnold’s Veteran Poise

Though Darnold didn’t see first-team reps during either of the first two days of OTAs, Shanahan did have kind things to say about the USC product and the veteran poise he brings to the locker room.

“I met Sam just when he came out of college just interviewing him in Indy. Even then he seemed like he had a veteran presence. Just the way he carries himself whether he’s in a football building or whoever his peers are off the field. And he seems almost like the same guy I met five years ago, so he is a little bit more of a veteran being in a couple places, but Sam’s come in here, to me, being the same guy he’s always been,” Shanahan said.

“That’s why he’s had such a good reputation and he’s coming here acting like he’s learning everything from scratch, which he is, and trying to act like a rookie in that way because it is all new to him. He doesn’t want to make any assumptions and he’s been awesome in phase one and phase two, trying to do techniques he’s not used to and things like that. And it’s been cool that he put the work in those two phases that he’s been able to use some of it here in these last two practices.”

Ultimately, Darnold was signed to serve as a veteran presence in a locker room featuring two players still signed to their rookie contracts. Though he still has plenty of meaningful football to play, as he doesn’t even turn 26 until June 5, maybe Darnold really was signed as a veteran arm to hold the fort down until Purdy is ready to play, as opposed to a true challenger for the starting job, a narrative that has been pushed far more often by the media than the team publicly.

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