QB questions linger over 49ers headed into summer break
By JOSH DUBOW
SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Brock Purdy resumed his throwing program, Trey Lance looked healthy and showed off his improved mechanics and Sam Darnold got acclimated to a new offense.
The San Francisco 49ers ended their offseason program and headed off for summer break with some encouraging signs about their quarterback room despite many lingering questions that won't really start to get answered until they reconvene in late July for the start of training camp.
The first questions revolve around Purdy, who went from being the final pick in last year's draft to winning his first seven starts to lead San Francisco to the NFC championship game before getting hurt early in a loss at Philadelphia.
Purdy underwent major elbow surgery in March and just resumed a throwing program last week. Purdy is throwing three days a week and projected to be healthy for the start of the season but the Niners aren't sure when he will be cleared to practice.
“We’re taking it very slowly,” coach Kyle Shanahan said this week. "It’s not like you just jump out and push stuff. You’re only supposed to throw on this date at this percentage, these many yards, and then you do a certain amount a couple days later and if you stay on track it should heal the right way. Right now, everything’s right on track and I don’t ask three weeks ahead. You just keep trying to stay on that trajectory.”
Purdy had an impressive debut season, throwing for 1,374 yards with 13 touchdowns and only four interceptions in the regular season. His 108 passer rating in the regular season and playoffs was the highest ever for a rookie with at least 200 passes.
But that was a small sample size and the Niners know Purdy will need to make more progress if he will become the long-term franchise quarterback.
“He’s got an unbelievable start to his career," quarterbacks coach Brian Griese said. "Now, there’s a lot of things that Brock can and needs to get better at for this team to go where we want to go. Brock and I, we’ve had that conversation, and he knows. He’s the first one to tell you. That’s normal, too, for a young player. So I’m excited to get him back, get him healthy, and see how good he can be.”
Griese pointed to accuracy, reading defenses, playing from the pocket and limiting turnovers as areas Purdy needs to improve at to have success.
Purdy has a longer track record than the player who was supposed to be the franchise QB. San Francisco traded three first-round picks to draft Lance third overall in 2021.
But Lance spent his rookie season mostly as a backup to Jimmy Garoppolo and was hindered in his two starts by a broken finger. Lance then went down with a season-ending ankle injury in Week 2 last year and has only four mostly pedestrian starts in his brief career.
With his finger fully healed and the ankle repaired, Lance spent the offseason tweaking some mechanics and working out with Patrick Mahomes as he tries to fulfill the potential the Niners saw in him when they made the big investment to draft him.
“I’m not going to lie to you - I think Trey looks significantly better than he did last year," tight end George Kittle said. "I really do. I think his confidence is there. I think that he’s throwing really good passes.”
Darnold was also a former No. 3 overall pick but has had little success so far in his career with struggling teams on the New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.
Darnold's 78.2 career passer rating is the lowest among the 36 QBs with at least 1,000 attempts since he entered the league but he has never had the opportunity to play on an offense as talented as the 49ers.
“He’s been through a lot in his career," Griese said. "I think everybody that knows football or watches football can see the skill set that Sam has. ... I think that our system, our offense, is tailor suited to a quarterback coming in and finding their footing and getting stability. Sam has that opportunity now and we’ll see what he does with that opportunity.”
Neither Darnold nor Lance has separated themselves as the clear No. 2 behind Purdy during the open portion of practices this offseason.
But Shanahan says that's not to be unexpected during a portion of the season when many of the key starters on both sides of the ball are merely spectators in team drills.
“All this stuff gives these guys a chance to have a chance to compete in training camp,” Shanahan said. "When you don’t practice football an entire offseason, you don’t do any practice of football since your last game, it’s very hard to come to training camp and be ready to beat someone out. So that’s what you try to provide all this stuff for is just to give guys a chance to learn the offense, get their timing, get everything, so now when they go to training camp, they’re ready to compete and that’s truly where I see the competition starting.”
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Updated June 8, 2023