Ladies and gentlemen, it’s game week!
For months, you and I had to fill the void inside of us with highlights from last season, training camp videos and online articles. Not anymore! On Friday this week, the 49ers will host the Packers and give fans their first taste of what to expect for this upcoming season. This match has a lot to look forward to, so I’m here to break it down for you. Here are five things to watch for this coming Friday:
1. Trey Lance
If I walked down the streets of San Francisco and asked any viewer, “Who are you most looking forward to seeing on Friday?” The answer will usually be Trey Lance. The faithful fought a long and treacherous war in the offseason, begging Lance for his place in the starting role and it didn’t take long. The coaching staff (primarily Kyle Shanahan) announced the 49ers as Lance’s team on July 26. As noted, fans have been begging Lance for the job, so to see it come to fruition through Lance’s hard work this offseason is a beautiful thing. This upcoming game against the Packers has a big story within it: it’s the first time Lance will walk onto the court knowing he’s the guy. Lance had nearly a month and a half at camp to work on his game and build chemistry with those around him. He parted ways with Garoppolo by a wide margin and now he can put on a show in front of thousands of cheering fans. So yes, it will only be a quarter, it is still an important experience. I would expect Lance to take his shots early, see if he can catch fire quickly. Expect a few flashy throws, but also be prepared for a few mistakes, hallmarks of a young quarterback.
2. New/different types of game calls
Let’s keep it real. Kyle Shanahan is an offensive guru. Now that Garoppolo is out, Shanahan’s shiny new toy is here and he’s ready to smash it. More often than not, when a coach has a “game manager” style QB, the playbook can have a sense of limitation. You do not believe me ? Let’s take a look at the transition from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes, orchestrated by Andy Reid in 2018. In 2017, Alex Smith had an MVP-caliber year and attempted 505 passes, just three short of his peak in career. Despite an incredible season from Smith, Reid decided to move on and name Patrick Mahomes a full-time starter. Mahomes then attempted 75 more passes in 2018, averaging nearly four more per game. Fun fact, Mahomes even amassed 658 total attempts in 2021. On reflection, when you get a more talented quarterback, the usage rate for that position tends to go up. I see that in Lance’s future with Shanahan. There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that Lance is equally talented compared to Garoppolo. Yes, the team will remain a top notch team, but expect different looks as well. On Friday, look for designed quarterback runs, more RPO calls, and of course, designed routes that exceed 10 yards.
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3. New and improved secondary
The 49ers secondary SHOULD be improved a lot. Of course, no one knows for sure, but on paper it’s improved. The first quarter will give fans their first glimpse of the Ward-Moseley duo on the outside. I predict Ward will cover Sammy Watkins, while Moseley will be on Allen Lazard for a good part. In the secondary backend, Jimmie Ward and Talanoa HuFanga will fill the starting roles. As the game progresses, expect to see young players like Ambry Thomas, Tariq Castro-Fields, and Qwuantrezz Knight gain valuable experience.
4. Later Game O-Line Performance/Depth
Before Friday’s game, this will most likely be the starting offensive line. left tackle, Trent Williams; left guard, Colton KcKivitz; center, Jake Brendel: right guard, Daniel Brunskill; Right tackle, Mike McGlinchey. While it’s a terrific o-line, it’s a line that’s had its fair share of struggles during camp. However, it is important to point out that he faces a dominant front seven. I feel like this is the biggest under-the-radar story in this game. The question on everyone’s mind should be, “How can the line protect Lance and company?” It’s important to remember that Shanahan’s system relies on moving to the ground sticks, setting up your quarterback for a high probability of success. If the line cannot run its course, then the cause for concern is consistent. Finally, it will be interesting to see how the second team plays, especially the o line. As always, injuries happen, it’s the sad reality of the game we love. It’s important that the 2 gain solid experience as their names could be called out later in the season.
5. Brandon Aïyuk
If you’ve wandered aimlessly on social media in the last month and come across videos of training camps, chances are you’ve seen one guy more than anyone else: Brandon Aiyuk. He’s improved every season and I think this season he could eclipse the 1,000 yard mark. In 2020, he totaled 748 yards. In 2021, he totaled 826 on four fewer receptions. It’s proof that Aiyuk has become more comfortable and will most likely continue to elevate his level of play. Not to mention that if training camp is any indicator of how well he might play, Aiyuk could seriously be up for the Most Improved Player award.
With a plethora of topics to look forward to, this game will surely quench the thirst at least temporarily.