Trey Lance will make his first career start against the Cardinals in Week 5.
But right now, he is just the placeholder for Jimmy Garoppolo until his calf injury improves. That is not beneficial for Lance's development, and I doubt Kyle Shanahan cares. Otherwise, Lance would have received more first-team reps in training camp.
Lance's start against the Cardinals is a critical one for him.
He has a chance to stake his claim as the 49ers indefinite starter.
This has all the makings of what the 49ers went through in 2012 with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick. I am sure this is deja vu for any 49ers fans who vividly remember that season and can understand why this game is a pivotal once for Lance.
However, Shanahan is still embedded with Garoppolo as the starting quarterback. He will not easily be convinced to make a switch with Lance going forward because once he does that, then he has to stick with Lance the rest of the way. An impressive performance from Lance against the Cardinals on the road, or even just a promising one that can show Shanahan he has a quarterback that he can work with should be enough.
If Lance does that, then I would say he has a good shot at being named the starter in Week 7 against the Colts and going forward. The ball is in Lance's hand. He controls his own destiny, which in a way is unfortunate. He has hardly been developed, and possibly any work that was done with him during training camp could be undone. Once the regular season commenced, Lance was just a scout team quarterback. That doesn't get him better, only his teammates.
Personally, I am not expecting too much out of Lance. That wouldn't be fair to him. He is going to look skittish. That is part of his growing pains. This is also his first real week of practicing with the starters. He has never had this many reps with them beforehand. I would expect he looks much better than the half he did against the Seahawks, which was pretty bad to say the least. Now that he has a week of practice and preparation, he should look improved.
Where I envision how he can sway Shanahan's mind is if he completes a couple of shot plays and makes some magic happen with his mobility. That can be either from the running the ball or making off-script throws. So long as he is putting up points, then that will suffice because right now the 49ers are struggling to score points with Garoppolo. He also will need to protect the football. One mistake should be allowable, but if he starts to make multiple, then Shanahan will sour.
If Lance does not look good, if he looks average and makes mistakes, which would not be surprising, then Shanahan will stick with Garoppolo. I doubt we would see Lance again unless Garoppolo gets injured again or if the 49ers are out of the playoff race. For the 49ers benefit, which Shanahan cannot see the bigger picture, Lance needs to start. It is clear he has a long way to go to become a solid starter. Continuing to put off his development will push the 49ers farther away from sustained contention.
Luckily for Lance, the Cardinals cornerbacks look shot right now due to injuries. So he could very well light them up. It is make-it-or-break-it time for Lance on Sunday. If he can at least look promising, intriguing, or inspiring, then he has a case to make to be the starter going forward.