SANTA CLARA – Brock Purdy is not just the 49ers’ season-opening quarterback. He is a first-time captain, which is a distinction that eluded Trey Lance a year ago.
A key difference: Purdy proved his leadership ability – and availability — on the field.
“I mean, it’s hard to be seen as a leader when you haven’t been out there before,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Guys can think you’re a leader, you can act like a leader, but guys don’t follow many people who don’t produce on the field.”
Purdy produced eight straight wins, up until his elbow injury in last season’s NFC Championship Game.
“That’s why (Purdy) got so many votes this year, because I think they believed in him and felt he was one of the leaders last year,” Shanahan said. “Not because he’s being some vet and talking to guys a certain way. (It is) just because of how he prepares, that they can count on him and how he handled a number of situations when he got in there.”
Teammates elected five other captains: defensive tackle Arik Armstead, tight end George Kittle, linebacker Fred Warner, left tackle Trent Williams and wide receiver Deebo Samuel.
Samuel’s path to captaincy almost came last season, but Shanahan opted to keep just six captains; Samuel and Lance had the next-most votes.
“It’s for sure important to him,” Brandon Aiyuk said of Samuel. “We talked about it last year and I think it hurt him a little bit not being a captain, so I’m excited for him this year to be a captain.”
A fifth-year veteran, Samuel was indeed appreciative of the appointment, though he declined to comment to reporters; he spoke to the media Monday.
“I was happy for Deebo,” Shanahan said. “He was disappointed he didn’t (make captain) last year. I know he was, and for him to be one of those guys now, especially how last year ended a little bit for him, I think it shows how dedicated he’s been.
“You guys have seen it out on the field,” Shanahan added of Samuel, “and you guys have written about and stuff and the players feel it strongly also.”
Kittle is a six-time captain. This is the fourth straight year that Armstead, Warner and Williams are 49ers captains; Williams noted he first became a captain his second year in Washington, in 2011.
On Purdy’s appointment, Williams noted: “He is a natural-born leader. Guys notice that, and guys noticed it enough to vote him as a captain. That’s a huge honor. It’s not like he’s been a Day 1 starter and they handed him the keys to the car.”
Shanahan doesn’t just hand out captains patches to anyone. He asks players to rank their top four nominees, then he learns which eight drew the most votes, and he whittles it down from there.
“There’s a lot more than six guys on our team who could do it, and so that’s why it’s kind of a thing I try not to make too big a deal about,” Shanahan said, “because you’re going to offend someone on your team.”
The most notable exclusions from the captain crew: defensive end Nick Bosa, running back Christian McCaffrey, fullback Kyle Juszczyk, cornerback Charvarius Ward and safeties Talanoa Hufanga and Tashaun Gipson Sr.
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Bosa made captain last year for the first time. Aside from a one-day appearance at June’s mandatory minicamp, Bosa has been away from the team, up until Wednesday’s agreement on a historic contract extension. His leadership does not go unnoticed, whether he’s wearing the “C” patch on his jersey or not.
“As laid back and as monotone as he seems, he’s a big part of this locker room,” Williams said. “A lot of people really follow him. We learn a lot from him, as far as the dedication to treating your body right, eating right and sleeping right.”