For the first time since tearing his ulnar collateral ligament in the NFC Championship, Brock Purdy was back playing football on Thursday.
Purdy’s timeline was always a little murky, but the 49ers had long hoped he would be available for the start of training camp. That said, when elbow inflammation forced his surgery to be delayed more than a week, there was an understanding his return might take longer than was ideal.
Kyle Shanahan admitted on Wednesday that he was preparing for Purdy to take another few weeks to be ready.
But on Thursday, there he was.
Everyone in attendance at the second day of training camp shared a curiosity about the extent of Purdy’s involvement. Would he be a full go? Did the “pitch count” the 49ers said he’d be on refer to the days he’d practice?
One of the first warmups quarterbacks do is throwing from a short distance to a coach from one sideline to the other, following the yard markers. Purdy did it going one way, then stopped and mimicked his throwing motion going back the other way. Might that be an indication he’d take some mental reps? Nope.
He was, as general manager John Lynch said — at least from a medical standpoint — without restrictions.
His display on Thursday confirmed that. Purdy took 21 of the 52 reps in 11-on-11s shared between the 49ers’ four quarterbacks on Thursday, with Trey Lance and Sam Darnold taking 11 each and Brandon Allen taking nine.
Purdy threw nine times in 11-on-11s and another seven times in 7-on-7s (three more than the next-most, which was Darnold).
Completions will be noted throughout camp, but those numbers tend to be a little misleading, especially without context. Purdy’s performance was nothing to write home about, but the most notable point was that he looked healthy.
There was a palpable increase in energy with Purdy back on the field, though it didn’t manifest in fireworks.
The tenor of the offensive performance was set on his first attempt. Purdy rolled out to his right and delivered to Ross Dwelley, who flat-out dropped it. Charlie Woerner also dropped a pass from Purdy in 7-on-7s, and rookie tight end Cam Latu had an egregious false start in 11-on-11s moments after fellow rookie tight end Brayden Willis looked unsure of where to line up in a formation. The tight end group aside from George Kittle so far looks unconvincing, though it’s very early.
Purdy’s worst play of the day came in his second set of 11-on-11s. He was under pressure and threw a panicky ball in the direction of Brandon Aiyuk, who looked like he was running a different route than Purdy was expecting — something Purdy alluded to after practice — and ended up in the hands of Tashaun Gipson Sr., who returned it for a would-be pick-six.
Purdy looked decisive and efficient in 7-on-7s, which usually benefit the offense. The defense, at this stage, tends to cause the offense fits in 11-on-11s.
Twice — once in 7s and once in 11s — Purdy went deep and overthrew his target. The first one, to Jauan Jennings, didn’t have a hope. Charvarius Ward was in lock step with Jennings. The second, though, was just an overthrow on Purdy’s part. Deebo Samuel, who looks as lean and fast as he’s ever been in camp, beat Ward deep and had space to make a likely touchdown catch if Purdy had hit him.
The 23-year-old admitted afterwards that there’s some rust he’s still working to get rid of — he mentioned multiple times that this was his first actual practice and experience working with his receivers since his injury — which makes all the more important the fact that he’s healthy and active from the outset of camp.
Purdy said that while there is a program to keep ramping up, he doesn’t feel any discomfort or limitations with his arm.
“No [limitations]. I’ve actually worked up to this point throwing back-to-back days, have a heavy day of throwing and the next day, maybe tune it down a little bit,” Purdy said. “But I’ve worked up to get to the point to where my arm doesn’t hurt… My arm feels great.”
That, more than anything else at this stage, is what the 49ers care about. Purdy has multiple weeks to round back into form before the start of the regular season and get in tune with his wide receivers. For a team whose only true question mark — aside from Nick Bosa’s contract — has been quarterback, that is a monumental relief.