During Kyle Shanahan’s tenure as the head coach of the 49ers, he hasn’t had stability at quarterback. Just look back at his quarterback rooms. Here’s how they looked heading into training camp each year.
2017: Brian Hoyer, Matt Barkley, CJ Beathard, Nick Mullens
2018: Jimmy Garoppolo, CJ Beathard, Nick Mullens
2019: Jimmy Garoppolo, CJ Beathard, Nick Mullens
2020: Jimmy Garoppolo, CJ Beathard, Nick Mullens
2021: Jimmy Garoppolo, Trey Lance, Nate Sudfeld
2022: Trey Lance, Jimmy Garoppolo, Brock Purdy
2023: Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, Sam Darnold
Jimmy G. has been a mainstay, but he missed significant time in ‘18, ‘20, and ‘22. So, even when the Niners had a veteran under center, injuries forced the team to call on inexperience.
We’ve learned that lack of playing time doesn’t mean a player can’t perform up to the 49ers expectations. Brock Purdy made an appearance in the Chiefs game and threw an interception last year. That series had zero impact on the game, but it told you that Brock was willing to let it fly, which was the opposite of Jimmy.
The more Purdy played, the more he got comfortable and figured out what he could and couldn’t get away with. Remember, we were watching a seventh-rounder grow up in real time. Mistakes were expected.
Purdy avoided the costly mistakes and won football games. In the simplest terms, that’s what you want from your quarterback. But when you dig deeper, you could see why Shanahan trusted the rookie.
On Tim Kawakami’s “The TK Show,” Shanahan explained the maturation of Purdy and how he became a thing. Here’s Kyle explaining when he first saw something special in Brock:
“We noticed it with every rep he got. It was two reps for the first couple of practices. What you noticed was, he didn’t mess around. It was so decisive on what he did. He didn’t try to overly impress us with the first rep, like, ‘hey, I’m going to go make a big play.’ He just whatever play was called, whatever the two reps were, he did that. He was like a machine.
By the end of OTAs, I was like, ‘man, this young guy is a machine. I don’t if we’re going to be able to keep him on the practice squad because he’s probably going to do well in the season.”
Shanahan went on to explain how while Sudfeld had been in the league for several years, he had only started one game. So that meant he was in the same boat as Purdy. Once the 49ers got into the season, Shanahan said he told CEO Jed York how well Purdy had been playing in practice.
Sure enough, Jed’s first exposure to Brock was in a game. That game so happened to be against the Chiefs, where Brock turned the ball over. Kyle said he had to calm Jed down after he said, “I thought you said he was really good!”
Purdy would have a chance to redeem himself the following week once Brock was forced into action after Garoppolo suffered an injury against the Miami Dolphins. Shanahan said nothing changed with Purdy, as he was the same in practice as he was in the game. That consistency gave the coaches confidence.
Kyle spoke about how the players never wavered on Brock, but it was Week 15 on the road against Seattle when Shanahan knew:
“At that time, especially with Trey being out and with Jimmy being up in the air with when he could come back, that’s when I knew we had a dude. Because of how good he had played the two weeks prior.
I think he had broken ribs that Thursday. I remember when he took his shot during pre-game warmups he couldn’t throw because it was still hurting in that area. I’m sitting there going through the openers not knowing if he could throw or not.
So he’s waiting for that to kick in, and I’m thinking should I go with Josh Johnson or not, who had been with us for two days. Then Brock is like, I think I could do it. Then watching him in that game knowing how hurt he was and watching him manage the game and some of the plays he made to move the chains on 3rd & 1 scrambling.
I knew we had a dude who was made up the right way who could handle the pressure and stuff. We’d seen what he does as a player during practice, but it was more of the makeup. It was proven.”
That’s the answer. Shanahan, the players, and the 49ers believe in Brock because he not only played through injury on a short week, but performed well enough and came up with a clutch play when they needed him.