Shanahan believes Lance's mechanics ‘the best' 49ers have seen


SAN JOSE — Trey Lance has returned from a major injury. But it was something that seemed much less significant on the surface that proved to be the bigger obstacle in the quarterback's development as an NFL passer, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan said.

A hairline fracture of Lance’s right index finger during the 2021 preseason proved to be a major setback that severely limited his throwing ability for more than a year, Shanahan said Wednesday night at the Dwight Clark Legacy Series event.

Because the injury did not heal properly, it forced Lance to change the way he gripped the ball.

“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,” Shanahan said. “He tried to adjust so he could be out there.”

Comparatively, the fractured ankle he endured in Week 2 that ended his second NFL season seems to be less of a long-term concern.

Shanahan said Lance’s lower body is fine and he’s throwing the ball very well at the start of the team’s offseason program because his finger is no longer an issue, either.

“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. “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.”

Still, the 49ers consider Brock Purdy to be the top quarterback on the depth chart after winning eight consecutive games after taking over for Jimmy Garoppolo last season.

Shanahan said Lance’s spot behind Purdy should not be read as a negative against Lance, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.

“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 of 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.”

Purdy, who likely is four months away from being fully cleared after elbow surgery, is considered the team’s top quarterback because he proved himself in his extended playing time last season.

It starts with all the victories, Shanahan said.

“Then you watch the tape and just try to see why,” he said. “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.”

A year ago, the 49ers anointed Lance as the starting quarterback as the club expected to trade Garoppolo in the offseason.

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The 49ers were prepared to experience the ups and downs of turning the team over to a young quarterback. But the injury prevented Lance from gaining valuable experience.

“We were ready to go with Trey,” Shanahan said. “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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