Now that the dust has settled, Kyle Shanahan has had a moment to re-watch the tape and assess the performance of the San Francisco 49ers in their preseason opener against the Kansas City Chiefs. And as it appears, the head coach's early evaluation of a number of young players has remained consistent.
All eyes were on rookie quarterback Trey Lance who appeared in his first live game since Oct. 3, 2020. The rookie finished the night playing seven-total drives and completing 5-of-14 of his passes for 128 yards and showed understanding and comfort in Shanahan's offense. He displayed his "wow" factor that enticed the 49ers in the pre-draft process, flaunting his big arm with an 80-yard touchdown in his second series of the day. Despite the flashiness of Lance's performance, the rookie is still a work in progress. The head coach didn't expect a perfect performance, but what he saw was on par with his expectations for the No. 3 overall pick.
"Trey, what he showed in that game, I wish I could have left him out there longer," Shanahan said on a conference call on Sunday. "He enjoys playing. He's only been able to play one game in over a year. But I think it was good for him to get out. I think he started out good. He got a little excited sometimes, which he does. When you get a little excited, your technique and stuff, you lose, which will be fun to watch with him. Trey's a guy who's tough on himself and loves to correct things. And since we've had him, he's been very good at correcting mistakes."
In addition to Lance, Shanahan highlighted two other young offensive playmakers making their 49ers debut who stood out from the game: Jauan Jennings and Nsimba Webster.
Jennings played the most snaps of any offensive skill player (54 percent) and played 11 percent of special team snaps and flashed his ability to break through tackles after the catch. Jennings caught two screen passes, for 11 and 12 yards, which were logged as rush attempts instead of receptions. His lone catch of the day came in the third quarter when the wideout hauled in a catch from quarterback Josh Rosen the middle for a 26-yard catch-and-run.
The wideout didn't just catch the head coach's attention in the stat book. He was also involved in both the run and passing game as a ball carrier, receiver and blocker. Shanahan acknowledged Jennings' efforts as a blocker throughout the contests, only adding stock to his name in the 49ers tight competition at receiver.
"I was excited with how Jauan played," Shanahan said. "He's a physical guy who loves to play football, and I wanted to see a transfer over to the game and make sure he could still gather enough control and do his assignments, also. If you watch him in the running game, he really got after it. (Giving) the maximum effort in every play. How he dug out those safeties on blocks, always blocking on the backside, on the corners. And then, when he got his opportunities when the ball was thrown to him, he came through. We hit him on that seam and hit him on a couple screens that he hit hard and got us two first downs on them. I was happy with Jauan."
Webster recorded the 49ers longest return of the day on Saturday, ripping off a 43-yard kick return. Returning to the lineup on the ensuing play, the receiver took an end-around 34 yards to move the 49ers into Chiefs territory and ultimately set up a JaMycal Hasty touchdown. The former Los Angeles Rams return specialist was claimed by the 49ers off waivers ahead of the start of training camp and has been in the mix for the job with a handful of names.
It's a crammed position group with some question marks surrounding some of its vacancies, but Webster's contributions on special teams could play into his favor come late August's roster cuts.
"He did a hell of a job," Shanahan said. "He gave us that spark there at the end to take that lead, and that drive was pretty much him and Hasty. He started it off with that kick return and then followed up with a reverse. I was just happy with how well he ran the ball. The game didn't look too big for him. He looked like he enjoyed the physicality of the game. He definitely got himself a chance to be in the mix."
Speaking of the 49ers wide receiver battles, the team will likely be without undrafted wideout Austin Watkins Jr. for 6-8 weeks. The undrafted pass catcher played through a broken foot suffered early in Saturday's game, finishing out the night with 23 offensive snaps.
Second-round guard Aaron Banks left the game in the third quarter after suffering a shoulder injury. According to Shanahan, Banks could miss "possibly" three weeks with his injury.
Of note, the 49ers and the rest of the league must officially reduce their 90-man rosters to 85 by Tuesday's 1p.m. PT deadline.