Preseason Week 1 Takeaways: Mixed Bag from Trey Lance Makes 49ers' Choice Easier
Rookie quarterbacks defined Saturday's Week 1 preseason contests with the Jacksonville Jaguars' Trevor Lawrence, New York Jets' Zach Wilson, San Francisco 49ers' Trey Lance and Chicago Bears' Justin Fields taking an NFL field for the first time.
The lone remaining first-round quarterback, the New England Patriots' Mac Jones, impressed Thursday night.
Each made his argument why he should or shouldn't be starting sooner rather than later. In certain cases—looking at you, Jaguars—the decision appears to be already made, even if it's not official. Others are still wide open with their respective teams still considering all options.
The final point doesn't just apply to franchises with first-round investments behind center. The Denver Broncos, New Orleans Saints and Houston Texans remain unsettled at the game's most important position.
In total, 10 games were played throughout the first full day of preseason action. Quarterbacks demanded the most attention, but the following developments dominated the action.
Maybe 49ers Had It Right with Jimmy Garoppolo Decision
A first-round quarterback's timeline should be set by the individual, not the team.
In the case of the San Francisco 49ers, the organization hasn't wavered about Jimmy Garoppolo entering the season as the starter, though general manager John Lynch left the door open to the possibility prior to Saturday's contest against the Kansas City Chiefs.
"That's up to Kyle (Shanahan). That's up to our head coach," Lynch said on the Murph & Mac show (h/t 49ers Webzone's David Bonilla). "He makes the decisions on who's playing and what not. But I think it's Jimmy's right now and Trey's pushing. I think that's where it's at."
Upon seeing Trey Lance's preseason debut, the 49ers should be happy in that his natural ability portends something special while they still have a veteran option to start.
On social media, Lance's 80-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield wowed. But one play can't overshadow an entire performance. The throw shows what Lance will bring to the lineup. His athleticism makes him a constant threat. The 49ers staff moved the pocket to his left. The rookie threw back to his right on a rope. It's the type of throw Garoppolo can't make.
Lance's surrounding cast didn't do him any favors, either. Three drops lowered the rookies' competition rate under 50 percent. His offensive line didn't hold up and surrendered four sacks.
This year's third overall pick missed a few throws, too. The 49ers are still working on Lance's technique.
"There were some mechanical things in his fundamentals that Kyle and the group had asked him to work on, and he went and did that," Lynch mentioned.
"That's what we thought we were getting, and the early returns are really good. ... He and Jimmy have had an incredible working environment together where, yes, it's a competition, but they're both really good to each other."
If Lance continues to wow both the staff and everyone else, he should become the starter because he has a superior natural skill set. His performance in Week 1 of the preseason doesn't necessarily give him the juice needed to dethrone Garoppolo knowing how much San Francisco likes its current starter.
Jaguars Still Have Long Way to Go Even with Trevor Lawrence Behind Center
The Jacksonville Jaguars were the NFL's worst team last season for a reason. New football czar Urban Meyer upgraded the roster, but it's still a long way away from being legitimately competitive with the AFC's better squads.
Case in point, the Cleveland Browns outplayed the Jaguars through the first half of Saturday's contest despite having their second- and third-stringers on the field from the onset.
Cleveland started only two projected starters—defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who opted out of the 2020 campaign, and whichever young cornerback, Greedy Williams or first-round pick, Greg Newsome II, starts opposite Denzel Ward.
Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr., Nick Chubb, the entire starting offensive line, and so on and so forth didn't sniff the field. Yet, the Jaguars, who played both of their first-team offensive and defensive units failed to muster anything.
When projecting how Jacksonville grows and evolves around this year's No. 1 overall pick, Trevor Lawrence, an early lesson should have been learned. The surrounding cast must be improved. The Browns' backup defensive line sacked Lawrence twice. Aside from veteran receiver Marvin Jones Jr., the Jaguars' targets struggled to create separation or anything after the catch.
Still, Lawrence flashed. The new face of the franchise completed 6-of-9 passing for 71 yards, including an impressive 35-yard, third-down touch pass to Jones. Otherwise, the Jaguars didn't generate much during the opening half.
Lawrence has the talent to be special. The Jaguars must put the right talent around their quarterback to maximize his potential.
Drew Lock Outduels Teddy Bridgewater in Broncos' First Taste of QB Battle
Drew Lock opened the preseason as the Denver Broncos' QB1. If he continues to play as well as he did Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings, the third-year signal-caller won't relinquish the spot.
Head coach Vic Fangio already set the table for how he'd like the competition to ensue.
"Ideally, you'd like to come to that decision sooner rather than later," Fangio told reporters in July. "But we're going to let the decision be made for us, hopefully. ... But we're like everybody else—we want it to define itself quickly, sooner rather than later. But we're going to let the process play itself out."
Both Lock and Teddy Bridgewater performed well during the 33-6 victory. The difference lies in how each got the job done.
Lock completed 5-of-7 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yard connection with K.J. Hamler. Bridgewater, meanwhile, operated in his normal efficient manner. He threw only one incomplete pass in eight attempts but didn't stretch the field.
From this point forward, the Broncos' starting job is Lock's to lose. He is the more talented passer and threatens every blade of grass. His issue has always been about consistency. If he has a similar performance in Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, Fangio will get his wish and likely name his starter without the competition dragging all the way into the preseason's final week.
Corey Davis Appears to Have WR1 Connection with QB Zach Wilson
The New York Jets offense had a quiet outing in Zach Wilson's preseason debut. This year's second overall pick completed six passes for 63 yards.
Among those completions, Corey Davis grabbed two.
Davis signed a three-year, $37.5 million free-agent contract this offseason to make him the Jets' top wide receiver in title. But the team has other options in Jamison Crowder and second-round rookie Elijah Moore, who has been outstanding during training camp.
The 26-year-old Davis is a true outside target, though. He can work as the X-receiver and dictate coverage after setting a career-high last season with 945 receiving yards. Certain demands on now placed on him due to his financial standing. Davis being targeted four times in Saturday's contest against the New York Giants means something.
"We are a very, very young football team," Jets head coach Robert Saleh told reporters earlier in the week. "... If you think about it, if you count last year's group, 30 guys on our roster, somewhere around there, that have never had preseason action. To me, this is a big deal. These moments are priceless, especially for this team."
A reliable option at wide receiver will be necessary when it comes to creating a comfort level for Wilson. The rookie hasn't lit up training camp sessions or scrimmages. He didn't shine against the Giants. But Davis appears to be his security blanket, which makes him a vital component to the Jets' rebuilding plan.
Jameis Winston May Have Edge, but Saints QB Competition Remains Ongoing
The New Orleans Saints don't have a clear vision at quarterback, especially after Saturday's 17-14 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
Neither Taysom Hill nor Jameis Winston grabbed the brass ring and staked their claim to become the Saints' starting quarterback. Both attempted 12 passes. Winston completed seven compared to Hill's eight, but the former threw a touchdown pass. Considering the scoring toss and how Winston handled the Saints' two-minute drill, he might have a slight edge coming out of the context.
But Saints head coach Sean Payton planned to give both a couple of opportunities before making a final decision.
"I'd like to see these guys operate, both of them, in all three of these games," Payton told reporters Thursday. "Certainly by the end of the preseason games and possibly maybe before that—a week prior to the last game [we’ll reach a decision]. But I haven't sat down as a staff and said, 'This is the date.'"
Both quarterbacks made mistakes and threw an interception.
Apparently, Hill and running back Ty Montgomery were "not on the same page. ... Bad by both of 'em," according to Payton, per ESPN's Mike Triplett.
Winston's ill-advised throw was a "little bit late and outside."
The answer may be found in Payton's plan. Triplett reported the coach will flip the two quarterbacks. As such, Winston will start the second preseason contest. If the current three-game preseason operates like the previous incarnation, the second contest should be viewed as the "dress rehearsal." As long as Winston doesn't disappoint, he should be in line to become Drew Brees' successor.
Los Angeles Chargers Up the Tempo Under New Coaching Staff
Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler might not have taken the field Saturday for the Los Angeles Chargers, but everyone got a glimpse of the new Chargers offense and its faster pace.
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi brought what he learned under Sean Payton during their time together with the New Orleans Saints and affixed the approach to the Chargers' new-look scheme.
An increased tempo creates a lot of potential once the Chargers have their entire unit on the field. Chase Daniel didn't have the same supporting cast and Los Angeles struggled to create scoring opportunities against their hometown rival.
The Chargers have been alluding to the change for some time without outright stating so.
Head coach Brandon Staley mentioned he wanted the team's offense "to run through Justin Herbert," which should come as no surprises in today's game. But Drew Brees was a maestro in New Orleans. Herbert will be asked to do similar things under Lombardi's supervision.
The biggest indicator regarding increased tempo came when Staley mentioned the team's proposed usage of running backs Justin Jackson, Joshua Kelly, Larry Rountree III and Ekeler.
"We really believe in having that diversity, that variety of runners that can really change the pace on a defense," the coach said.
Once the Chargers' offense finally takes the field in full force with a fun approach, the group could develop into one of the league's best, especially after the front office fortified the front five this offseason.
Packers' Jordan Love Plays Well Before Injury
Despite the drama created by the rift between quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Green Bay Packers' front office, the latter may be smiling a little bit knowing it has a quality, young quarterback in the pipeline.
A year in the system and extra reps with the first team during organized team activities and minicamp paid dividends as Love excelled in Saturday's preseason debut against the Houston Texans.
The second-year signal-caller completed 12-of-17 passes with a touchdown toss on a screen to running back Kylin Hill.
"I thought Jordan did a really nice job," Rodgers said during the telecast (h/t The Athletic's Matt Schneidman).
The Packers will go as far as the reigning MVP leads them this fall. But the opportunity to finally get last year's first-round pick on the field for quality reps against an actual opponent is important to Love's development.
Unfortunately, he dinged his throwing shoulder. Love told reporters the shoulder feels "a little strain-ish" and thinks he'll be ready for the next preseason contest.
Ultimately, the upcoming season belongs to Rodgers. The Packers will simultaneously prepare for their future, though. Every rep Love gets in a competitive setting is important. He needs to play in the team's preseason contests and get the experience necessary to become Green Bay's future quarterback since Rodgers and the organization appear to be hurtling toward a mutual split.
By this time next year, Love could be crowned the starter, and his performance now may be all the Packers have to prove he's worthy of being the guy.