SANTA CLARA, Calif. — As the Brock Purdy pitch count comes to a close for the San Francisco 49ers — possibly as early as this week, according to Kyle Shanahan — there was one enduring point the head coach wanted to make clear about where Purdy’s performance is registering.
“[It’s] the same thing I saw before he got hurt,” Shanahan said Saturday. “Nothing different.”
It’s an important declaration because it cuts through the continued “outside” measuring that has encircled the 49ers since the start of training camp. A daily dose of mathematics that has harped on quarterback stat lines between Purdy and dueling backups Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, calculating everything from snap counts to completion percentages to red zone performances and perceived body language. A majority of that has been dedicated to sorting out the depth chart beneath Purdy, but never really feeling that far away from comparing him to his backups, either.
Yet, when you talk to Shanahan about Purdy, at least some of that calculation versus Lance and Darnold feels like wasted energy. Unquestionably and without hesitation, Shanahan makes it clear who the team’s starting quarterback is. It’s the same guy who earned his confidence late last season and the same guy who Shanahan still believes might have put a Super Bowl stamp on the 2022 season if he hadn’t suffered a shoulder injury in an NFC championship game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. For now (and you always have to use this qualifier with Shanahan), there’s little that can change it. Regardless of how Lance responds to a challenge to be consistently accurate inside the pocket, or how fast Darnold can master the 49ers’ scheme, Purdy is the guy.
Only a complete and total meltdown in the remaining weeks of the preseason could change that, and a handful of pick-sixes thrown by Purdy in practice thus far isn’t coming close. If anything, Shanahan sees Purdy as being more ahead of the curve than others might think, largely because he’s gotten the offseason of mental reps and studying that he couldn’t in 2022.
“I think [the full slate of mental reps] was the best thing for him, because Brock got here in the OTAs last year, or a week before it,” Shanahan said. “So he didn’t get any of the basics. You start teaching the offense from step one in phase one [of the offseason program], and then you go about six weeks before rookies even get here. Then you give them a crash course a little bit, but they’re just trying to pick it up.”
Fifteen months since Purdy’s arrival in the building — largely unnoticed beneath the presumed rise of Lance and the lingering availability of Jimmy Garoppolo — it’s an entirely different story. Now it’s a measurement of who can back up Purdy, fully showcased on Saturday during a designed day of rest that turned over all of the first-team reps to Lance and Darnold.
Despite being reasonably accurate during the day, neither was exceedingly impressive against a first-team defense that lacked reigning Defensive Player of the Year Nick Bosa. And there was also a very tangible argument that a handful of completions for each were wildly unrealistic given the length of time they held the ball in the pocket. Even the biggest completion of the day — a wild deep touchdown catch from Lance to Willie Snead — required an insane circus catch on a ball that easily could have been intercepted if the defender had turned his head in time.
Of course, you don’t want to make one practice emblematic of an entire training camp, particularly during a camp tour when you’re getting the most limited of snapshots. But it is wise to listen to the decision makers. And where it concerns the quarterback on this team, that begins and ends with Shanahan. As he sat in his office Saturday and propped a foot up on his desk, he left little room to question where the 49ers will begin in 2023.
It’ll be with Purdy. Not Lance. Not Darnold. Not some wild entirely unexpected left turn. Instead, the coming weeks will continue to be geared toward getting Purdy’s shoulder acclimated to game action and putting him back onto the track of growth that had Shanahan so excited late last season. If you think that plan is going to fall apart soon, all you needed to do is hear an anecdote Shanahan shared about looking backward at Purdy’s selection with the final pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.
“We were studying college quarterbacks [this offseason], and I know we’re not taking any, but I just like to watch the first round guys just so I can stack them up,” Shanahan said. “In February, I went back and watched Brock’s last game versus Clemson. I’m watching guys, trying to evaluate where they’ll go [in the 2023 draft], and I thought, ‘After watching these guys, let me go watch Brock again, just from college — not the NFL — just to compare.’”
“I was like, ‘Well, s***. He looks like a first- or second-round guy in college,’” Shanahan said. “We put him in the fourth round, I thought he’d still be there in the sixth, then we took him in the seventh. … Now it’s easy to see. It’s not like it just happened. He’s always been a good player.”
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