SANTA CLARA — At 23, Trey Lance still has plenty of time to carve out a successful NFL career.
However, time is running out for Lance to gain valuable experience and make strides in his development with the 49ers.
Second-year quarterback Brock Purdy is the 49ers' starter. He may see limited action Saturday night when the 49ers take the field against the Denver Broncos at Levi’s Stadium in the second of three preseason games.
Sam Darnold is scheduled to see the bulk of the playing time. He appears to be inching ahead of Lance to serve as Purdy’s backup to open the regular season.
Then, there’s Lance . . .
Lance was the 49ers’ starter to open last season. The 49ers were going to find out a lot about the player they traded up to select with the No. 3 overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Lance never got that opportunity to get better last season. He sustained a season-ending fractured ankle and ligament damage on a freak play in the first quarter of the 49ers’ Week 2 game against the Seattle Seahawks.
San Francisco 49ers
Ultimately, Purdy took advantage of his opportunity to solidify himself as the team’s unquestioned starting quarterback.
Lance is under a great deal of scrutiny. He looked hesitant and indecisive early in the 49ers’ preseason opener Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders. He also threw at least two passes that Raiders defenders dropped.
Since his senior season of high school in 2017, Lance has attempted only 420 passes in game action (318 at North Dakota State, 102 in the NFL).
That is why Saturday’s preseason game is important. His opportunities are only going to get more scarce.
Lance needs the reps, and he must show progress in order to turn down the temperature of his criticism.
Here are other 49ers players to watch at Levi’s Stadium against the Broncos:
81 - TE Cameron Latu
The 49ers invested a third-round pick in Latu.
As things currently stand, Latu is not deserving of a spot on the 53-man roster. He is struggling as much as any 49ers rookie draft pick in recent memory.
So the onus is on Latu to turn it around. This summer, one bad play has led to another and another. That must stop or the 49ers will have no choice but to move on.
After another unsteady week of practice with more dropped passes, Latu must get his act together and start to build some momentum and give the 49ers some reasons to keep him around.
4- K Jake Moody
Nobody is making too big of a deal out of Moody’s two misses against the Raiders in the preseason opener. But kickers are a different beast. Sometimes, talented young kickers have a difficult time snapping out of slumps when they start out poorly.
The 49ers invested the No. 99 overall pick in Moody. He is slated to replace reliable veteran kicker Robbie Gould.
Moody’s spot on the team is secure, but in his first game at Levi’s Stadium, he needs to start building confidence at a spot where he is going to be kicking half of his games.
60 - OL Ilm Manning
After not drafting any offensive linemen, the 49ers signed some rookies to the 90-man offseason roster.
Manning is the one player who has really impressed 49ers’ offensive line coach/run game coordinator Chris Foerster.
Listed at 6-foot-2, 294 pounds, Manning was protected to play guard after lining up at left tackle during his college career at Hawaii. He started 60 of the 62 games in which he appeared over five seasons.
His future might be at guard, but right now the 49ers like him at tackle.
“When you go to the undrafted guys, we're looking to see who we're going to try and sign as undrafted free agents,” Foerster said. “And it was interesting because we needed a tackle and we were looking at the tackle list and it was thin. It was really thin. And then Ilm just stood out.;”
99- DT Javon Kinlaw
Kinlaw has not missed a day of practice this summer, as the 49ers hope his knee issues are behind him. Kinlaw is not lacking for confidence.
"I'm really a freak,” Kinlaw said last week. “The world is going to see. Point blank. Period.”
Now, it’s time for him to start backing up his words with better production on the field.
Kinlaw seems to be moving well laterally. His pass rush also appears improved. But where Kinlaw struggles is on run plays that come right at him. At 6-foot-5, 319 pounds, it is difficult for Kinlaw to keep a low center of gravity and anchor at the point of attack. He has been leveraged off the line of scrimmage by NFL offensive linemen.
The 49ers need more from Kinlaw to show that he will not be a liability on run plays in base situations when he enters the game to replace starters Javon Hargrave or Arik Armstead.
27 - S Ji’Ayir Brown
Brown has made steady and noticeable improvements throughout training camp after coming to the team with the No. 87 overall selection.
He played 35 snaps in the 49ers’ preseason opener against the Raiders, and he figures to see a lot of action against the Broncos, too.
Brown had three tackles on defense and one on special teams. The 49ers are counting on him to continue to make strides in order to serve as a backup to Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson. His play on special teams is also important, because that’s where he might be able to make an impact once the regular season begins.