49ers' Trey Lance-Jimmy Garoppolo QB battle just starting to heat up

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- In the days after the San Francisco 49ers traded up to No. 3 in the NFL draft and made it clear they intended to use that pick on a quarterback, incumbent starter Jimmy Garoppolo did what any normal human would do: he let his mind wander.

"There's a million emotions that go on throughout your head and you think of all the possible scenarios and things like that," Garoppolo said last month. "But at the end of the day, I want to play football. I want to go out there and win games. That's what I do. ... It took a little while to process everything but once I did, it was just go out there and ball. You have just got to attack it. The NFL is a crazy business."

If the trade and subsequent selection of North Dakota State quarterback Trey Lance wasn't wild enough, the attention paid to the Niners' potential quarterback battle is only starting to ramp up.

When the Niners ended their offseason program on June 9, Garoppolo remained atop the depth chart with Lance in the second spot and backups Josh Rosen and Nate Sudfeld jockeying for position and reps. At some point, Lance is expected to surpass Garoppolo but when that will happen is hard to predict.

That's especially true after Garoppolo seemed to respond well to the challenge of Lance's arrival, looking sharp in organized team activities open to media and leaving coach Kyle Shanahan impressed.

"I think Jimmy had his best spring since we've had him," Shanahan said. "I thought Jimmy came in in great shape, really locked in, a good place physically and mentally. And I thought he had as good of OTAs as he's had.”

Garoppolo has been with the 49ers since 2017, but this is only his second full healthy offseason program, and it's it's clear he doesn't intend to roll over and allow Lance to unseat him without a fight.

In fact, Garoppolo is doing his best to ignore the potential for a looming quarterback controversy. He's focusing on things he needs to do, not least of which is finding a way to stay healthy after missing 23 games over the past three seasons.

"If you start thinking about all those things, especially as a quarterback, you're going to be in some trouble," Garoppolo said. "I have got enough things to worry about, just with the offense and things like that, trying to improve things here and there."

For his part, Lance didn't look like he was in over his head during OTAs and took most of his reps with the second team. Although there were no pads or contact, Lance was able to digest all that Shanahan and offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel threw at him, though he had his share of ups and downs.

"Some days you do good, some days you do bad, but there's a whole up and down with it that is necessary for a guy to go through," Shanahan said. "So you can get those reps, soak it in, have an idea of what it feels like. Now we have tape to show him, tape to talk to him about, he gets to get away on his own and have an idea of what's expected out of him when he gets back."

When Lance, Garoppolo and the rest of the 49ers return for the start of training camp on July 27, there's no doubt that Garoppolo will be the starter with Lance as the backup. The question that will loom over the Niners in camp and beyond is how long it will stay that way.

Shanahan doesn't intend to rush Lance but has said that if the rookie catches up and looks capable enough to turn it into a competition, that's something he will allow to happen organically.

As for the bond between the rookie and veteran, it's so far so good, though the real test won't come until the heat turns up later this summer.

"The relationship between me and Trey, I think will just happen naturally," Garoppolo said. "It's not something that you want to force too much. You don't want to make it fake. It's just things will happen and that stuff takes time. But I think it's just one of those situations where you don't want to go out of your normalcy and do something that's not you. So, I just let things happen and take it from there."

Which is exactly how Shanahan and the 49ers intend to let it all play out when the preseason arrives.