SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The Brock Purdy Comeback vibe right now, in case you’re wondering, is almost exactly the same as the Hey Brock Purdy Keeps Winning vibe back in early January. Which was eerily similar to the Brock Purdy Is Surprisingly Good vibe in early December.
And quite frankly, also identical to the Who the Heck Is Brock Purdy vibe for pretty much every previous day of his NFL life. If you’re looking for a more animated and agitated guy than the quiet, acutely focused player who stepped into the 49ers’ starting quarterback role late last season and won eight games in a row and played pretty close to perfect football, well, it’s apparently going to take more than a very serious elbow injury and long rehab to change any of that.
“He seems like Brock,” offensive tackle Trent Williams said with a smile. “Brock is rock-solid mentally. He doesn’t get flustered very easy. He took the whole process like a champ. If he was going through anything, we couldn’t tell. I couldn’t tell.”
To that point, in his first live action of any kind since his elbow got blown up last January, Purdy calmly took all the first-team snaps in Thursday’s Day 2 of training camp and seemed quite comfortable in the moment, just like always. He calmly made the throws when they were there. He calmly brushed off an early interception by safety Tashaun Gipson when Purdy had pressure in his face and threw before Brandon Aiyuk was expecting it. He had some other off-line throws. He calmly uncorked a couple of deep balls that looked good but sailed just past his sprinting receivers. He calmly made one or two beautiful throws. Then he calmly addressed the whole thing after it was over.
Purdy said he was so excited on Wednesday night anticipating this moment that it felt like the night before Christmas; but of course, Purdy said that in his usual dry tone. Maybe there was a flicker of a smile, maybe there wasn’t. Everybody’s been waiting for him to hit the practice field, and so has he, but the process remains the same. Just another day of work. Another day, and then start thinking about getting better for the next one.
“There’s some rust I’ve still got to knock off,” Purdy said. “I didn’t obviously get any reps in the OTAs or anything like that with 11-on-11, 7-on-7 (drills), whatever. Just the pace of the game, seeing a defense, going through reads. Today was good to get out there, go through some reads and stuff, let it rip. Obviously, I had the interception, but that’s something I’m just going to go in the film room and learn from it, just get on the same page with BA and continue to grow. More than anything, I was just excited to get live reps.”
If there were a few moments that seemed slightly more adrenalized than normal, they came in those deep shots, both down the right sideline, one to Jauan Jennings and one to Deebo Samuel. Purdy said that’s where the coverage read directed him to throw it, but he also admitted he wanted to go full tilt a few times.
Brock’s back and feeling good 💯 pic.twitter.com/qCY2yuoDyI
— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) July 27, 2023
And his arm strength absolutely was not a problem in either launching. Maybe that was part of the point, too. I’ll add that new defensive coordinator Steve Wilks has emphasized that a main goal is to cut down on the big passing plays that at times have hurt this very talented defense. Just from these two days of camp, it seems clear that Wilks’ secondary is extremely attuned to that — no receivers are getting past the back line, period. So it was fascinating to see Purdy try not once but twice. With some gusto.
Do you think you have the same arm strength post-surgery as you did last season, Brock?
“I’d like to think so,” Purdy said. “Throwing ‘go’ balls and cutting some balls to the sideline, I feel like I have the strength to get it there just like last year. So I’m going to continue to try to develop my arm and get it stronger and stronger and go from there.”
So what happened on the deep shots?
“Those two ‘go’ balls, the one to Jauan and the other to Deebo, I haven’t thrown a ‘go’ ball to them all offseason,” Purdy said. “So I’ve just gotta get on the same page with them and everything. And obviously, being out there for my first day, I wanted to let it rip and all that. It felt good coming out of my hand, I’ve just gotta be on the same page with them and get more reps.”
This practice had an appropriately large feel because it was Purdy’s first practice — he didn’t participate in Wednesday’s opener because he had throwing sessions on Monday and Tuesday, and the only limitation he has right now is that he won’t throw three consecutive days. So the large media assemblage soaked up every Purdy moment, jotted down every significant play and murmured about what it meant as it happened.
This was big because the 49ers have a roster set up to take another run at a Super Bowl and because the team absolutely believes that the NFC Championship Game would’ve been a lot different if Purdy didn’t get his elbow wrecked in the first quarter. Trey Lance and Sam Darnold are competing for the backup spot. Brandon Allen is an interesting QB4. This entire camp is set up for a lot of interesting QB play.
But Purdy is at the center of it all. All the way through the offseason and through Wednesday, he was the absent figure. The QB-to-be, once he got his elbow healthy. There are very few doubts inside 49ers HQ about Purdy, even after only those handful of games last season and even though he was the last pick in the 2022 draft, simply because he played so well and handled it so calmly.
Which is also probably why Thursday’s moments didn’t seem overly dramatic for the rest of the team. Most of Purdy’s teammates saw him throw on his own or talked to him throughout the process. They knew Purdy was feeling good. Though some initial timelines projected that Purdy might not be back until midway through camp and possibly not for Week 1 of the regular season, Purdy clearly had a decent idea he’d make it back sooner.
Kyle Shanahan wasn’t exactly on pins and needles Thursday, either. While Purdy went through his warmup drills alongside Lance, Darnold and Allen and the TV cameras lined up to get video of it, Shanahan was on the other field, tossing a ball around with his son and nephew. Though this day had meaning, it didn’t have a lot of worry. Purdy was ready for this. He’s usually ready for everything.
Presuming Purdy doesn’t have a setback with his elbow or get injured in any other way, he’s almost certainly going to be the 49ers’ QB1 in Pittsburgh on Sept. 10. Nobody has to say it. Everybody on the team just understands it, though Purdy said he and the coach haven’t discussed that decision yet.
“No, we haven’t had any kind of conversation like that,” Purdy said. “It’s, ‘Hey, how can I be great today at practice? Let’s get these reps, let’s get the mental reps and let’s continue to grow.’ Obviously, what we put on tape last year was great and all, but there’s still a lot of areas where I have to grow and get better and stuff. So that’s just where we’re at. We’re not trying to get too far ahead of ourselves.”
That’s the Purdy vibe and probably always will be: Get to work, figure out what went wrong, what went right and get ready to go to work tomorrow. It’s how he seized this job. It’s how he’s keeping it, even after a six-month detour through surgery and rehab. And it’s why Thursday was such a big day, but a calm one, too.
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Kyle Shanahan on the moment he knew Brock Purdy was his QB and the 49ers’ title quest
(Photo: Jeff Chiu / AP)