49ers’ Trey Lance made ‘substantial jump’ working alongside Patrick Mahomes

When Trey Lance takes the field for OTAs next week he’ll look different — and throw more efficiently — than the version of Lance who began last year’s spring practices.

So say Kyle Shanahan, John Lynch and Jeff Christensen, the private quarterbacks coach who analyzed Lance’s throwing motion and worked with him earlier in the offseason. In a phone interview with The Athletic this week, Christensen said Lance’s biggest breakthrough came when he stood behind his most famous client, Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, and watched him throw.

“I said, ‘Watch this. Watch what he does here,’” Christensen recounted. “It was something I was telling him to do that he wasn’t quite doing. And then he saw Patrick apply it perfectly. And I think that visual buy-in, that mental buy-in, helped him past that mental hump.”

“And to his credit he just kept getting better,” he continued. “(Over) the last seven days, every day was a substantial jump.”

Accuracy has been an issue for Lance since the 49ers drafted him No. 3 in 2021. He’s completed just 54.9 percent of his passes over his first two seasons, albeit with one of his four starts occurring in uncommonly wet and sloppy conditions in Chicago. Still, that percentage was close to his 54.7 percent mark during the 2022 training camp, which trailed Brock Purdy (69.3 percent) and Nate Sudfeld (73.5 percent).

Purdy is expected to be the team’s starter in 2023. But he’s currently recovering from elbow surgery and the spring practices will be led by Lance, Sam Darnold and newcomer Brandon Allen.

Shanahan noted that injuries have played a big role in Lance’s delivery. He broke his right index finger in the 49ers’ preseason finale in 2021, which affected him the rest of his rookie season and which bled into the spring period last year. He was making progress as a thrower when the regular season began, but then suffered a broken ankle in the first quarter of Week 2, ending his season.

The finger and ankle are no longer issues.

“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 earlier this month. “Yeah, we’ve 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.”

Christensen said Lance’s retooled motion also has addressed another long-running issue: arm soreness.

When they first started working together in early March, Lance’s arm would become tender after three days of intense work and he’d need to take a day off for rest and treatment. That doesn’t happen to quarterbacks who have the right technique, Christensen said. For example, he’s been working with Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell since O’Connell was 12 and he’s never had to ice his arm.

By the end of their time together, the problem had improved. Christensen said his lessons with Lance, which were held in the Dallas area, wrapped up with a particularly vigorous session, one in which Lance threw 150 balls. The quarterback left for the Bay Area that night certain he was going to be in pain the next day.

“And I called him in ’Frisco on Saturday at noon,” he said. “And he thought for sure his arm would be killing him. And I said, ‘OK, how’s your arm?’ He said, ‘I cannot believe I woke up and it was not sore at all.’”

Asked if Lance has had any soreness issues since the 49ers offseason program began in mid-April, Christensen said, “zero.”

The issues with Lance’s throwing motion initially were substantial. Christensen said it usually takes him a day to diagnose what’s wrong with a quarterback’s delivery. With Lance, it took four days. But once he figured out the root cause, there was steady progress. Lance’s accuracy improved, the spin on the ball increased and the delivery time became shorter.

Christensen credited Lance with being eager to learn and to push himself through the awkward phase every passer experiences when he’s trying something new.

“It’s a different feeling and it can be kind of weird,” he said. “And it can be kind of scary. And so it’s a whole different feeling when the ball leaves your finger. To his credit, he slowly kept applying and kept believing.”


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