49ers’ Trey Lance hits rehab milestone, but a return this season still unlikely


SANTA CLARA, Calif. — There was Trey Lance smiling broadly on the sideline as the 49ers pulled away from the Chargers in a Week 10 win. A few days later, he was spotted hanging out with teammates at the Air Force Academy. And cameras caught him entering the field — no crutches, no walking boot, no limp — at Estadio Azteca before Monday’s game.

Which is to say, the quarterback’s rehabilitation from his Sept. 18 ankle fracture is going as planned. He hasn’t resumed running yet, Kyle Shanahan said Wednesday, but Lance is moving around well and has been cleared to travel with the team, which means he now can sit in on all meetings, including when the team was in Colorado last week. When the 49ers went to West Virginia last month, Lance had to stay behind and took part in meetings via video conference.

“Now he’s preparing like he’s playing — except for everything on the field,” Shanahan said.

“He’s doing really well,” said fellow quarterback Brock Purdy, who’s become close to Lance. “Ever since he’s been back in meetings, he’s been on it as far as helping Jimmy (Garoppolo) and me out. Obviously, seeing him around practice and even on the sidelines during games, it feels good to have him around, hear his voice, get his opinions on things. He’s doing really well.”

Lance has declined interview requests since his injury, and the team has not given a firm timeline as far as his recovery. After the injury occurred, Shanahan said Lance would not have a chance to return this season. And what if the 49ers go deep into the playoffs?

“I haven’t been told there’s a chance,” Shanahan said when he was presented with that scenario. “Things would have to be pretty drastic. I mean, we weren’t expecting that much at the beginning (of his rehabilitation). I think he’s right on schedule with everything, but I have not been told anything else.”

Said general manager John Lynch on his weekly appearance on KNBR radio: “I don’t see that as a possibility. … He’ll be fine long term, but I think that’s a big ask to be back this year.”

A good indicator of how a quarterback can recover from such an injury is Dak Prescott. The Cowboys quarterback broke his right ankle on Oct. 11, 2020. The injury occurred nearly a month later in the season than Lance’s, it was more serious — Prescott had a compound fracture — and he required a cleanup procedure in December of that year. Still, Prescott took part in OTAs the following spring, was full-go for training camp, then had one of the best games of his career in Week 1 of the 2021 season.

Lance appears on track to be ready sooner than Prescott was. His ankles are now the same size, which certainly wasn’t the case a couple of weeks after the surgery. He needed screws and a plate to stabilize the broken bones, and the joint was badly swollen.

Purdy said Lance still gets daily treatment and therapy.

“Outside of that, he’s always around us, always around the guys,” he said. “He’s a guy that everyone attracts to. Everyone loves being around him.”

What impressed Purdy the most is that Lance never went into a funk following his Week 2 injury.

“Definitely not,” he said. “He’s been very positive. Even like a week after his surgery, he was on Zoom meetings, already getting back into it. His vibe and his positivity have been great. Everybody loves him.”

Odds & ends

• Because the 49ers didn’t return to the Bay Area from Mexico City until 6:15 a.m. Tuesday, Shanahan gave the players Wednesday morning off. Wednesday practices usually start at 1:45 p.m. This one began at 4:03 p.m. and was conducted inside Levi’s Stadium without helmets or pads. The 49ers also will have a lighter-than-normal practice Thursday, which usually is their most strenuous practice of the week.

The 49ers have not been very good following week-long stays away from Santa Clara under Shanahan. They are 1-4 in those situations, the most recent being their 44-23 loss to the Chiefs following their week in West Virginia.

Shanahan also noted that Thanksgiving can be distracting because so many players have relatives in town.

“I have to remind young guys that it’s their (family members’) vacation, this is your job,” he said. “So don’t feel guilty for not hanging out with your uncle late at night. Hang out with him on Sunday night.”

Playing at 7,200 feet in Mexico City also took its toll, with Nick Bosa calling the experience with the thin air “brutal.”

“A big emphasis this week is getting our minds and bodies rested and not just grinding ourselves into a pulp,” he said. “We’ve got to be smart, prepare more mentally this week, then be ready to roll.”

• Defensive tackle Arik Armstead (ankle, foot) was the only 49er on the 53-man roster who missed Wednesday’s walk-through practice. The team has not given any sort of timeline on when Armstead could return to the field. Shanahan did say the fact that the 49ers have three straight home games increases the chances another defensive tackle, Javon Kinlaw (knee), can come off of injured reserve. Kinlaw did not travel to Colorado Springs or Mexico City because of the swelling that can occur during plane flights.

Left tackle Trent Williams got a day off practice. Samson Ebukam (Achilles/quadriceps) was limited. Shanahan said defensive backs Jimmie Ward and Charvarius Ward had to leave Monday’s game because they were winded. Linebacker Dre Greenlaw jammed his hand and missed a few snaps but is otherwise OK.

• Charvarius Ward missed Thursday’s and Friday’s practices at the Air Force Academy to attend the birth of his child and therefore might not have been as acclimated to the altitude as his teammates. Still, he led the team with 10 tackles against the Cardinals.

“I can’t say enough good things about Mooney and the way he competed out there without having the practice and getting acclimated,” defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said. “He still went out and battled each and every snap.”

• The two biggest World Cup followers on the team: punter Mitch Wishnowsky and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, who said he usually roots for the U.S., Italy (dad’s side of the family) and Germany (mom’s side of the family). The Italian team did not qualify for this year’s cup.

Wishnowsky, who grew up outside of Perth, Australia, said he and his “mates” follow the tournament very closely. He said he thought Brazil would win it but that he’s hoping a less prominent squad takes the cup.

“It would be cool to see a team like Serbia or, I don’t know, Denmark make it far,” he said.

(Photo of Jimmy Garoppolo, left, and Trey Lance: Michael Zagaris / San Francisco 49ers / Getty Images)


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