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McFeely: Lance comes home, but there's no room for sentimentality on this work trip

Minnesota native, former Bison QB, won't play in 49ers' preseason game against Vikings

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) during a joint practice with the Minnesota Vikings at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minnesota, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022. Lance, a Marshall, Minnesota, native, was a college star at North Dakota State.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press
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EAGAN, Minn. — There is no sentimentality in the NFL.

I know this because I asked San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan on Wednesday.

Shanahan's Niners will play the Minnesota Vikings on Saturday at U.S. Bank Stadium in a preseason game. The teams are practicing together a couple of days this week at the Vikings' massive facility in suburban Eagan.

It's a homecoming for Trey Lance, San Francisco's second-year starting quarterback by way of Marshall, Minn., and North Dakota State. But Shanahan said last week Lance would not play in Saturday's game.

Lance's parents were at practice Wednesday. The Vikings will bus Lance's high school team from Marshall to the TCO Performance Center to watch Thursday's practice. Lance will have more than 100 family and friends at the game, according to his parents Carlton and Angie.

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This is a big ol' Minnesota/NDSU reunion.

So I asked Shanahan, is there no room for sentimentality in the NFL since Lance is from here? Couldn't he at least get a few reps?

"Now that you reminded me that he is, maybe I'll think about it," Shanahan said, grinning and pausing before dropping the hammer. "No, not at all. Sorry."

The Trey Lance Show in his home state will be limited to practices.

"It's good to be back," Lance said after Wednesday's two-hour practice.

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) greets 49ers wide receiver Jauan Jennings (15) during a joint practice with the Minnesota Vikings at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minnesota, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

Speaking to a gaggle of reporters after practice, it was clear Lance didn't want to get into the homecoming questions too much. He's an NFL quarterback now, the keys to a franchise have been handed to him, and this is a job.

Yes, he grew up three hours west of the Twin Cities. Yes, he rooted for the Vikings growing up. Yes, he played college ball a short trip away in Fargo. Yes, his first big splash as a Bison was blowing up Butler in Target Field in downtown Minneapolis.

But as the head coach said, there's no room for sentimentality.

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"I'm excited, for sure, you know, to see my family and see some friends. But I mean, it's work at this point," Lance said.

And there is work to do.

Lance's practice day, facing the Vikings' starting defense, was up and down. That's been a pattern through San Francisco's training camp thus far and is probably not unexpected for a young quarterback who played sparingly as a rookie.

Lance was 7-of-11 against the Vikings, according to figures kept by San Francisco Chronicle beat writer Eric Branch.

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The highlight was a deep ball completed for a touchdown to Sammy Gray, who beat Minnesota cornerback Patrick Peterson.

The lowlight was missing wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle on plays that would've been big gains. There's still some wildness in Lance's right arm.

Asked to assess Lance's practice, Kittle was candid.

"I think there was good plays and bad plays. Like most practices, I think he made some throws he had to make. He missed a couple, but it’s practice, and so hopefully he’s taking steps forward and going into the film room and he’s learning from that," Kittle said. "We’ve just got to continue to make plays so he gets those consistent reps and it just builds a little bit of momentum. I think it was a good start."

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Worrisome, too, was Lance throwing a few completions behind receivers. There's no place in the NFL for making pass-catchers reach back or slow down.

“I think there’s been a lot of hits. There’s been some misses. I mean, nothing that I’m worried about," Kittle said. "I think Trey has consistently gotten better and better every single day. He’s way better than he was when we first got him. He’s better than he was last year, and he’s better than he was in OTAs, so as long as I keep seeing this — small consistent steps in the same direction lead to great results — I’m pretty confident in his ability."

The Niners, after dealing three first-round draft picks and one third-rounder to Miami for the chance to take Lance in the 2021 NFL draft, aren't waiting on him. He's the starting quarterback for a team with big expectations.

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San Francisco 49ers quarterback Trey Lance (5) during a joint practice with the Minnesota Vikings at TCO Performance Center in Eagan, Minnesota, on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022.
John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

San Francisco went to the NFC Championship game a year ago with Jimmy Garoppolo as the starting quarterback. The 49ers scuttled Jimmy G in favor of Lance. The clock is ticking.

"He's getting a little better at everything, which is what you need to do for a rookie coming in. Especially with the lack of experience Trey had," Shanahan said. "So you throw everything at him and he gets one down, then you throw a bunch of new stuff at him and he takes a step back. That's been the process all throughout last year and coming into this year. He just needs to get his consistency up in every single area and not take two steps back as much.

"I keep saying the more he plays, the more reps he gets, the better he'll get."

The work-in-progress, unfortunately, will not be on display Saturday night for Lance's home state to see. There is no place for nostalgia or sappy homecomings in the NFL. Just ask Shanahan.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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