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Quarterback observations: Purdy finds his groove on Day 7

Brock Purdy looks better on Day 7. Sam Darnold isn’t too shabby. Trey Lance turns it over, but that’s not the story

NFL: San Francisco 49ers Training Camp Robert Edwards-USA TODAY Sports

It was a solid showing for all three quarterbacks who took reps during the team period on the seventh day of 49ers training camp. Brock Purdy, Sam Darnold, and Trey Lance all participated, while Brandon Allen did not take a single snap during the team period of practice.

The good news is all three participating in 11 on 11’s looked solid in their respective reps. In a world starving for a quarterback controversy, today’s practice didn’t offer much of an extreme in either direction.

It was a heaping helping of moderately adequate quarterback play, which has proven to be an effective baseline for a 49ers team that makes a deep playoff run whenever they can sustain that level of play from whoever is under center.

My biggest takeaway from watching this group was that the 49ers are a double-digit win team with any of the three taking most of the snaps during the regular season. I did not feel a major drop-off from one to the next, an encouraging sign for a team that saw its championship hopes shattered by injuries to three different quarterbacks in 2022.

Purdy continued to be the only quarterback exclusively working with the first-team offense. That’s yet another sign that there is no doubt in Kyle Shanahan’s mind who his starter will be Week 1 in Pittsburgh should all the available options be healthy.

Shanahan explained why Purdy practice Thursday:

“No because he’s had two days on, one day off. And so, he had yesterday off, we don’t want to go two in a row. So, he went today, he’ll go tomorrow. Then he gets the third practice off. So, it’s part of the whole plan. That’s why we have these three days.”

His play on the field also justified that feeling, regularly making the in-rhythm throws that are essential in Shanahan’s offense. Purdy has seen the field well, consistently getting the ball out quickly and allowing his star-studded cast of playmakers to create after the catch.

His best throw of the day came on a glance route to Brandon Aiyuk, who had linebacker Oren Burks draped over him in excellent coverage as he broke over the middle. Purdy threw a perfect ball into a tight window that hit Aiyuk in stride and allowed him to turn upfield untouched for a touchdown.

He had a couple of really nice throws on these timing based in breaking routes to Aiyuk in today’s practice, allowing his receiver to rack up yards after the catch due to the accuracy of the ball placement.

It was a great example of the improvement Purdy has shown throwing to a spot on the field rather than to the body of an open receiver. An encouraging sign that his rhythm is continuing to improve the farther we get into camp, which should be no surprise for a quarterback who missed the entire offseason.

His biggest miss of the day came on a third down during move-the-ball drills. Deebo Samuel was running a go deep down the right sideline. Samuel had a step on Samuel Womack, but Purdy underthrew him and allowed Womack to make a play on the ball and disrupt the connection. With the separation Samuel had created, that’s a ball where the quarterback can’t allow a defensive back to contest it.

Building chemistry on those deep balls down the sideline is the most significant area to watch with Purdy and his wide receivers going forward. Overall, it was a sharp practice for Purdy and left no doubt in my mind why the 49ers feel so strongly about him as their starter moving forward.

Shanahan is pleased with Purdy’s progress:

“I don’t think anyone’s back to where they were exactly last season. We’re going through training camp, a lot of guys had more practices than him, but we only had six in OTAs. But he’ll get there. He’s doing some good things. They’re all doing some good, all doing some bad. But we’re not worried about Brock. Brock’s the real deal. He knows how to play, and we’ve just got to have our team keep getting better, and he’ll keep getting better as we go.”

Play-action Darnold

As for Darnold, what stood out to me the most was how he was asked to roll out of the pocket and throw off play action more than the other quarterbacks in today’s practice.

His most impressive throw came on a play action with him rolling out to his left. With Clelin Ferrell running free in his face, Darnold turned his shoulders and made a difficult throw under pressure to hit Danny Gray in the flat for positive yards.

He also had another that stood out despite it counting as an incompletion. On a first down near the edge of the red zone, Darnold threw a ball up the seam intended for tight end Brayden Willis who multiple defenders trailed in tight coverage. It ended up overshooting Willis but was put in a place where he would have been the only one who could have made a play on the ball.

I mentioned this one because Shanahan pulled Darnold’s unit off the field immediately after this play and ended practice shortly after. I would speculate that Darnold and the offense were aware they had only had one play to take a shot at the end zone. And given the available options, it was a more than acceptable decision and throw by any measure.

Darnold’s worst miss of the day came on a 3rd & 2 during move-the-ball drills. The offense dialed up a play-action call with Willis running a slide route to the left side. Darnold held the ball a little too long, and by the time he got it out to Willis in the flat, defensive back Myles Hartfield was able to break on the ball and register a pass break up.

It’s a throw and catch that you can’t afford to miss; the slightest bit of bad timing created a hiccup that led to a drive stalling and the offense coming off the field. Overall, it was a solid day for Darnold, who flashed his athleticism with some of the throws he was asked to make on the run.

Lance had a couple of throws to the intermediate area of the field that stood out to me. The one that impressed me the most was a spot throw to Willie Snead over the middle of the field. Snead ran a drift route, and off play action, Lance quickly identified the soft spot in the coverage and delivered a ball that allowed his receiver to sit down in the zone and avoid a big hit over the middle. Quality rep all around for Lance.

He also had another deep throw to the right sideline to Tay Martin on a deep crosser, which happened to be wide-open primarily due to how this play was schemed up. However, in Shanahan’s offense, those open throws will be plentiful for whoever is under center. I think Lance or any other quarterback deserves the recognition when they can capitalize on those opportunities.

While Lance was the only quarterback to throw an interception during today’s practice, that was not his worst miss of the day. He missed Willis badly on a quick slant, the kind of rhythm throw you have to demonstrate that you can hit if you are going to have any chance of being in the driver’s seat of Shanahan’s offense.

As for the interception, the offense ran a high-low concept with a crosser and a route to the flat. Lance tried to hit a receiver on a crossing route breaking in from the right side. Rookie linebacker Dee Winters was the hook defender and dropped into the throwing lane to pick off Lance. Here is what Shanahan had to say about the interception:

“So, one day it’s a high low, and he was too deep, and he wanted the deep throw, and he’s got to check it down.”

Just like the other two quarterbacks, Lance had a good day of practice for the most part. His confidence in throwing downfield is evident, and he continues to look stronger each day he is out there.

While not checking down led to the turnover, improving his consistency with the timing on those short routes will be the biggest thing to watch with Lance as camp moves forward.

On a final note, some teams in the NFL don’t have one viable quarterback on their roster. The 49ers have three of them, which is always going to be an excellent problem to have.