49ers' Brock Purdy returns to practice, says 'arm feels great'

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- To many outside observers, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy's participation in Thursday's practice might be viewed as him being well ahead of schedule in his recovery from right elbow surgery on March 10.

But to Purdy and his teammates, his presence under center with the starting offense in San Francisco's second training camp practice was no surprise.

"[I] never jumped ahead of schedule or tried to do anything out of the ordinary," Purdy said Thursday afternoon. "We had really great advice from all those professionals along the way and slowly got to where we're at. And still have a plan to continue to carry out. It's not, 'We made it through practice and it's over.' We still have some stuff to do."

Indeed, Purdy's recovery from the torn right ulnar collateral ligament he suffered early in an NFC Championship Game loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in January is not fully complete. For now, he's practicing two out of every three days. But there's little doubt that Purdy -- just four and a half months removed from that UCL repair -- is on course to be San Francisco's starting quarterback on Sept. 10 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And though Purdy said Thursday that coach Kyle Shanahan has not yet told him that he's starting that day, Shanahan and general manager John Lynch said all offseason that a healthy Purdy would be in line for that job after leading the Niners to a 7-1 record in eight starts to end 2022. They backed that up on Thursday when Purdy took all 21 of the reps with the starting offense and completed 3-of-10 passes with an interception to safety Tashaun Gipson on his second throw.

Backups Trey Lance and Sam Darnold alternated snaps with the second team while veteran Brandon Allen took the third-string reps. It's a far cry from a year ago when Purdy, who was the final pick in the 2022 NFL draft, was getting a couple of reps with the third string at the end of every team period.

"Coming in, being able to get a lot more looks on the defense and take command of the huddle and stuff, for me it feels a lot better," Purdy said. "I feel more comfortable with the playbook and everything."

The sight of Purdy back on the practice field was more than welcome to his teammates and coaches, many of whom have grown weary of the constant quarterback questions they've been asked throughout the offseason. Defensive coordinator Steve Wilks noted that Purdy's return brought "a level of excitement" to Thursday's session.

"I wasn't surprised [he's back already]," left tackle Trent Williams said. "I talked to him a little bit over the break, so kind of knew everything was looking pretty good. ... Brock is rock solid mentally. He doesn't get flustered very easy. He took the whole process like a champ."

After the injury against the Eagles, the Niners and Purdy consistently declined to put a timetable on when he'd be cleared to play again. Six months was a number that was thrown around publicly but other throwing athletes who have had the same surgery have been fully cleared in about five months.

Purdy sat out the spring period but began a detailed throwing program in late May. And when the Niners departed for the summer, Purdy retreated to Jacksonville, Florida, to work with private quarterback coach Will Hewlett and orthopedic specialist Tom Gormely.

There, Purdy continued his throwing program and began to ratchet up the intensity. Purdy threw longer distances, with more velocity and on consecutive days. Although he said he dealt with some arm fatigue, Purdy could feel his arm strength building back up.

When Purdy returned to the Bay Area earlier this week, he met with Shanahan and told him that he felt good enough to play 11-on-11 football again. With the blessing of the medical professionals, Shanahan agreed to clear Purdy and put him on a two days on, one day off plan.

It means Purdy still has to get to the point where he doesn't need designated days off (the 49ers are hoping that will happen within two weeks) and continue to add more throws on the days he does participate, but Purdy has no restrictions within the practices he's in, believes his arm strength is back where it was pre-injury and no longer has any soreness beyond what any quarterback might feel following a throwing session.

"I've worked up to get to this point to where my arm doesn't hurt or anything like that," Purdy said. "Any quarterback will tell you, 'Hey, I'm going to go ice my arm or do whatever with my arm and do treatment on it,' and that's where I'm at. ... Arm feels great."

In Thursday's practice, Purdy didn't hesitate to cut it loose when the opportunity arose. He overthrew receivers Deebo Samuel and Jauan Jennings on a pair of roughly 45-yard passes and the interception came on an intermediate route intended for wideout Brandon Aiyuk.

Purdy attributed those misses to lost time in the spring and the need to get back on the same page with his pass-catchers.

"There's just some rust I still got to knock off," Purdy said. "I haven't gotten any reps in OTAs or anything like that with 11-on-11 or 7-on-7. ... Today it was good just to get out there, go through some reads and let it rip."