SANTA CLARA — It’s about the midway point of practice Wednesday, and quarterback Brock Purdy has his hands on his helmet in disbelief.
Linebacker Curtis Robinson has just intercepted a pass — one of two Purdy would throw during the session — and the defense is having itself a grand old time in celebration.
It’s been a near-daily occurrence for Purdy, who later had a pass stolen in the end zone by safety Tashaun Gipson on a ball deflected by Deommdore Lenoir. At least two other passes were batted into the air, one by Fred Warner, and fell harmlessly to the ground when they could have been deflected turnovers.
If Purdy has been catching heat for his practice performances since returning from elbow surgery, Trey Lance is catching it on a national scale for his early struggles in a 34-7 exhibition loss to the Raiders.
The 49er’ former No. 3 overall pick is getting crushed on social media and was put on blast by former NFL exec (and 49ers employee) Mike Lombardi on his “GM Shuffle” Podcast.
The quote that drew the most interest was when Lombardi said, `At the end of the day, when his momma lifted him from the crib he just didn’t have that quarterback instinct.”
ESPN analyst Marcus Spears said on the air the deal to trade up for Lance will “go down as one of the worst in NFL history.”
The golden child at this point is Sam Darnold, of whom 49ers radio voice Greg Papa opined, “He could push Brock Purdy.”
All of which makes for entertaining training camp fodder and will have nothing to do with how the position is evaluated by coach Kyle Shanahan. Purdy is the starter. Period.
How about Lance vs. Darnold for No. 2?
“They’re competing for it,” Shanahan said.
Shanahan said he has not determined whether Purdy (or any other presumptive starter) will face Denver Saturday night and expects Darnold and Lance will flop their roles in terms of workload from the first preseason game.
For what it’s worth (and it’s not worth much), a rough estimate of Purdy’s practice with the first team is that he was 12 of 21 with the two picks and a touchdown to Deebo Samuel in a red zone drill.
Anyone worried about Purdy’s elbow should know he also threw a deep sideline route to Brandon Aiyuk for a completion. Lance was 4 of 6 with no touchdowns and no interceptions, and Darnold was 4 of 8 with a touchdown to tight end Brayden Willis in a red zone drill.
Following practice, Shanahan didn’t seem overly upset about the practice interceptions because . . . well, it’s practice. There are times to take a chance and see what can be done, and practice is the time to do it.
“You never want interceptions in any situation,” Shanahan said. “There’s never one answer. Each one is different, but I definitely like having interceptions all in one practice than in games.
“One thing Brock does is he lets it rip. He’s not worried about anything else. He’s especially not worried about people counting his interceptions in practice.”
The bottom line on Purdy is that he built up a reservoir of equity last season in finishing off Miami, winning five straight regular season games (including one with a broken rib in Seattle) and two postseason games.
Purdy did it in Shanahan’s system, the way Shanahan wanted it done. He was consistent, mostly safe, revived the bootleg game and sprinkled in just enough creativity so that he wasn’t a robot.
Just the kind of point guard to distribute to Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Aiyuk and George Kittle.
There is nothing Lance or Darnold can do on a practice field that can compete with what Purdy accomplished in actual games on a team that won a division title and reached the NFC Championship Game.
The deep throw to Aiyuk wasn’t a moment of truth so much as it was business as usual.
“I didn’t think much of that. I know what he’s capable of doing,” Shanahan said. “He showed us that last year and he’s already showed us that this year. I see us working with the same guy right now. Nothing looks different to our eyes at all.”
As for Lance getting a steady beatdown nationally, that was going to happen at some point anyway based on the 49ers trading up to a No. 3 pick to select him.
San Francisco 49er quarterbacks Sam Darnold (14) and Trey Lance (5) take practice snaps, Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023, in Santa Clara, Calif. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)
“It just goes with the territory. It goes with anybody who’s a high draft pick, especially the quarterback,” Shanahan said. “You watch receivers come into the league and have a few drops and there’s a lot of pressure. You want to see people come in and take off and do it right away and have no flaws and that’s just part of it.”
If Lance is bothered by any of this, he’s keeping it well hidden.
“Trey is extremely smart, very socially aware,” Shanahan said. “He knows how the world works so he does his best to block it out and focus on getting better and I think that’s what he’s done so far.”
Outside noise aside, what’s going on at quarterback is really not all that dramatic. Purdy was always going to be No. 1 if healthy.
Lance was going to have to make major strides in the offseason to win out over Darnold provided the newcomer was a fit for the Shanahan system.
Darnold is a fit.
Lance has gotten better but probably not to the point where Shanahan would trust him to lead a roster that expects to be a Super Bowl contender.
When Brandon Allen returns to practice Thursday after a quick paternity leave, the question is whether Lance could draw enough interest to bring back a draft pick before rosters are cut down to 53 men on Aug. 29. Or if he remains on the roster, potentially as a No. 3 draft pick who became a No. 3 quarterback.
— Lots of work on the running game during team periods, both outside zone and between the tackles, both in the middle of the field and in the red zone.
— Ambry Thomas got work on both the left and right side with the first team, with Lenoir again getting in some practice in the slot.
Kurtenbach: The 49ers aren’t worried about Nick Bosa’s holdout. They should be
49ers training camp: Talanoa Hufanga’s interception spoils Brock Purdy’s solid day
49ers appear to have job openings among NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense
49ers mailbag: Are rookie Moody’s kicking misses cause for concern?
49ers: Shanahan sees bright side of Trey Lance’s performance vs. Raiders
— Shanahan said he expected Zane Gonzalez to get an opportunity to kick against Denver, which was also the plan against the Raiders until Jake Moody missed his first attempt from 40 yards.
— Running back Elijah Mitchell (groin) is still not practice, but visual evidence on the side suggests he’s close and Shanahan confirmed that was the case.
— Linebacker Dee Winters has flashed occasionally as the playmaker he was in college at TCU. Winters went to college as a safety and moved to linebacker, just as teammate Fred Warner did at BYU.
“I kept up with Fred since I transitioned to linebacker in my freshman year in college,” Winters said. “God put me in the room to work with him.”