SANTA CLARA -- Through the first five weeks of the season, Kyle Shanahan has been so reluctant to play Trey Lance, it's starting to seem like Shanahan never wanted him.
When Lance gets in the game, the things Shanahan lets him do are extremely limited and have nothing in common with the 49ers' base offense. It's a completely different offense. Which means the 49ers have two offenses this season, and neither one is particularly good.
When Shanahan first became the 49ers head coach in 2017, a reporter asked him why he didn't want to keep Colin Kaepernick, who was quite similar to Lance.
Here's what Shanahan said at the time:
“You don’t just run stuff and think you’re going to be good at it right away. You’ve got to commit to it and work at it year round, and it’s all the positions. When all your quarterbacks have different ways to be successful, which I’ve been in situations like that and you try to prepare them best, it does take a toll on your offense. What are you trying to get good at? You can’t practice everything. You can’t be great at everything. You’ve kind of got to commit to something and do it over and over and over again and once the type of running game or drop-back game, you’re going to commit to one quarterback is completely different than the other, then that does affect your team. That’s why I think it can be harder when those type of guys are going through competitions and stuff and like that because even though you’re trying to find the best guy, by trying to be fair to those quarterbacks you’re also being unfair to a team. You don’t really know what direction you’re going. So, if you have your pick of the best world, you’d like those guys to be somewhat similar, not just because that’s how you want the quarterbacks, just because of the work you’re doing for the rest of the guys on the roster.”
Translation: Kaepernick was different than the other quarterbacks on the roster and Shanahan wanted to commit to one style of quarterback, so players in turn could commit to one style of offense.
The answer made sense at the time.
Cut to the present. Shanahan has contructed a team that has two different styles of quarterbacks, he has not committed to a offensive identity and, as a result, his offense doesn't execute anything particularly well.
I asked Shanahan about this irony on Wednesday:
ME: When first you got here in 2017, you were asked why you didn't keep Colin Kaepernick, and you said you wanted the same style of quarterback. If you have two different styles of quarterbacks, you have two different styles of offenses and you don't really master anything. Is any of that going on right now with your offense, two different styles of quarterbacks, two different styles of offenses and that's why you're not executing the way you have in the past?
Q: "There's a lot of truth to that. And that's why I said that whenever you can remember me saying it. But that's one reason I really like Trey. I don't think you have to do a totally different offense. I think Trey can add a lot to your offense and you can do a lot of different things that you might not be able to do with a guy who doesn't have the athletic ability in terms of running like Trey does, but you don't have to do a whole new offense. But you have to give the guys a chance to develop a few different things. But you never want to get away from your foundation.”
Shanahan didn't explain why he broke his own rule by creating a team without an offensive identity this season, but he did explain why he likes Lance. Apparently Shanahan believes Lance can run "a lot" of the 49ers offense. For some strange reason, Shanahan didn't show any of that against the Arizona Cardinals, but it's good to know that Shanahan at least has a vision for Lance's future.