SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The 49ers’ biggest OTA practice reporter on Tuesday didn’t practice at all.
Quarterback Brock Purdy, who has been limited to throwing light objects like towels so far this month, said he is on track to throw a football next week, the biggest milestone yet in his recovery from elbow surgery. That puts him on schedule — and possibly days ahead of schedule — to be back in full force at some point before the regular season begins.
“I feel good, my arm feels good,” Purdy said after practice.
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have said for months they were optimistic Purdy would return to practice at some point in training camp and be ready for the team’s first regular season game. , which will take place on September 10 in Pittsburgh. When asked on Tuesday whether that meant early in training camp or late in those sessions, Shanahan declined to give a specific timeline.
“We’re hoping for Week 1,” he said of Purdy’s availability. “And we’re pretty optimistic about that.”
Purdy has been slowly building up his arm strength since his March 10 surgery, and he said everything is back to normal with the arm. For example, he said he was lifting weights like he normally does.
So far, however, he hasn’t attempted to kick a soccer ball. He’s been alongside the other quarterbacks on the team since the start of the offseason program. But when they back off and drop a soccer ball during practices, he uses a towel.
“Brock is healthy in all other aspects,” Shanahan said. “So for Brock, to still be able to do his drops and all of his footwork and stuff and you (also) want to be able to fake a throwing motion. And it’s hard without anything in the arm. So we use a towel instead.
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The 49ers also practiced on Monday, but Tuesday’s OTA was the first open to reporters. Here are some other observations.
• Trey Lance, who spent part of the offseason working with pitching coach Jeff Christensen in Dallas, seemed to have a smoother, more compact delivery. With Purdy out of action, Lance took all of the first team reps while Sam Darnold worked with the second team group.
Shanahan said it will “even out” over time as Darnold becomes more familiar with the offense. He also noted that at this point in the offseason, practices consist mostly of seven-on-seven situations and none of the 49ers’ top receivers are participating. So “first team” offense is a relative term.
Lance said he started to feel fully recovered in late March from the ankle injury that ended his 2022 season and was as healthy as he had been for a while. At this time last year, he was still dealing with the effects of a broken index finger in 2021 which required him to relearn how to grip a soccer ball correctly.
“Wrist, hand, arm, shoulder — it’s all sort of connected, obviously,” he said. “Yeah, it bugged a lot of other things and it was hard to find a way to throw (with the ball) finishing my middle finger and changing my grip and things like that.”
This offseason, he said, he “focused on the things that I need to focus on.”
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• Tuesday’s seven-on-seven practice meant there were no linemen on the court. Lance and Darnold both finished 11 for 15 in their attempts. Darnold appeared to be the more aggressive of the two, including a deep sideline pass to speedster Danny Gray.
The most accurate passer was fourth quarterback Brandon Allen. He was 6 for 6 on his attempts, which included a long pass through midfield to tight end Troy Fumagalli.
• A number of prominent 49ers either did not attend voluntary practice or were kept out of the session as a precaution. This list included Nick Bosa, Trent Williams, Deebo Samuel, Javon Hargrave, Talanoa Hufanga and Ray-Ray McCloud.
Fred Warner was there and helped coach young linebackers like Marcelino McCrary-Ball, who lined up at middle linebacker. But Warner did not participate. So did linebacker Dre Greenlaw, cornerback Charvarius Ward and receiver Jauan Jennings.
• The two most prominent players who took part in practice: running back Christian McCaffrey and tight end George Kittle. McCaffrey seemed to be training at regular season speed.
“I’m used to it,” Darnold, who was a McCaffrey teammate in Carolina, said after practice. “He has a work ethic that will never change.”
• The most prominent defensive player on Tuesday was the team’s new nickel cornerback, Isaiah Oliver. Standing just over 6 feet tall and weighing around 205 pounds, Oliver is the biggest player the team has had in this position in recent memory.
He had no difficulty shifting his weight. He interrupted two short passes from Lance and another from Darnold and otherwise appeared to be all over the pitch. Oliver wears number 22, the same number Carlos Rogers – who was a nickel cornerback – had when he was in San Francisco ten years ago.
• Although Oliver was prolific, the best defensive play came from rookie cornerback Darrell Luter Jr. The fifth-round pick looked like a step behind Gray when Darnold uncorked a through pass on the sideline . But he caught the play and knocked the ball down, prompting his defensive teammates to run out from the touchline to congratulate him.
• Ward not training, Deommodore Lenoir and Samuel Womack III were first-team cornerbacks. Luter and Ambry Thomas worked with the second unit. With Hufanga out, Tashaun Gipson Sr. and George Odum were the first-string safeties with first draft pick Ji’Ayir Brown and Tayler Hawkins working with the second group. Another defensive back, Qwuantrezz Knight, had his hand in a cast and did not practice.
• Two other rookies stood out on Tuesday: seventh-round picks Brayden Willis and Ronnie Bell. Willis had a nice one-handed hitch from a Darnold fastball in midfield. Bell, meanwhile, was the most prolific receiver on the day, just as he was at the 49ers’ rookie minicamp earlier this month. It’s the very beginning of the spring season, of course, and it’s impossible to make any real assessments. But suffice it to say that Bell is off to a good start.
• In Williams’ absence, Jaylon Moore lined up at left tackle with the first team. Colton McKivitz, as expected, is the new starting right tackle, taking over from Mike McGlinchey, who signed with the Broncos in the offseason.
• Two defensive line starters, Bosa and Hargrave, were absent. Their starting spots were taken by Drake Jackson and Javon Kinlaw, respectively. Jackson looks more muscular, especially in his upper body, than he did a year ago. Kinlaw, meanwhile, looks slimmer and is starting to resemble his tall, linear teammate Arik Armstead in terms of build.
• Finally, here’s what happened in the 49ers kicking battle: Rookie Jake Moody and veteran Zane Gonzalez got four attempts, the last about 50 yards from the right sharp into the wind. Both made their first three attempts… but missed the fourth wide left.
(Top photo by Trey Lance on Tuesday: Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press)