SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The biggest news maker from the 49ers’ OTA practice Tuesday didn’t practice at all.
Quarterback Brock Purdy, who until this month was limited to throwing simple objects like a towel, says he’ll be on track to throw a football next week, the biggest step in his recovery from elbow surgery. That puts him right on schedule — and maybe two days ahead of schedule — to return to full strength sometime before the regular season begins.
“I feel good, the arm feels good,” Purdy said after practice.
Coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have said for months that they were hopeful Purdy would return to practice at some point in training camp and be ready for the team’s first regular season game, Sept. 10 at Pittsburgh. Asked Tuesday if that means early in training camp or later in those sessions, Shanahan declined to give a specific timeline.
“Hopefully for Week 1,” he said of Purdy’s availability. “And we feel very optimistic about that.”
Purdy has been slowly building strength in his arm since the March 10 procedure, and said everything is mostly back to normal with his arm. For example, he says he’s been lifting weights as usual.
But up until this point, he hadn’t tried to throw a ball. He has been side-by-side with the team’s quarterbacks since the start of the offseason. But when they fall back and leave soccer practice, he’s using a towel.
“Brock is healthy in every way,” Shanahan said. “So for Brock to be able to do the drops, all the footwork and stuff and you (also) want to be able to simulate the throwing motion. And that’s hard if you don’t have anything in your arm. So we use a towel instead.
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The 49ers also practiced Monday, but Tuesday’s OTAs were the first open to reporters. Here are some other observations.
• Trey Lance, who spent part of the offseason working with rumored coach Jeff Christensen in Dallas, looks to have a lighter, more compact offering. Sam Darnold worked with the second team while Lance took all the first-team snaps while Purdy was out.
Shanahan said that will “disappear” when Darnold becomes familiar with the offense. He also noted that practices this season will consist primarily of seven-on-seven situations and none of the 49ers’ top receivers will be participating. So “first team” offense is a relative term.
Lance He said he started feeling fully recovered from the ankle injury he sustained in the 2022 season in late March and is as healthy as he’s been in a while. This time last year, he was still dealing with the effects of a broken index finger in 2021 that forced him to learn how to properly handle a football.
“Wrist, hand, arm, shoulder — it all kind of connects, obviously,” he said. “Yeah, he accomplished a lot of other things and it was really hard to find a way to throw[the ball]with my middle finger and change hands and stuff like that.”
This season, he said, “I’m focused on the things I need to focus on.”
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• There were no linebackers on the field for Tuesday’s seven-on-seven drills. Both Lance and Darnold finished 11 for 15 on their attempts. Darnold looked the more aggressive of the two, including on a deep pass to the sideline with Danny Gray.
The most accurate passer was fourth quarterback Brandon Allen. He was 6 for 6 on his attempts, including a long pass to tight end Troy Fumagalli in the middle of the field.
• Several prominent 49ers either voluntarily did not attend practice or were held out of the session as a precaution. That list includes Nick Bosan, Trent Williams, Debo Samuels, Javon Hargrave, Talanoa Hufanga and Ray-Ray McCloud.
Fred Warner attended and helped train young linebackers such as Marcelino McCree-Ball, who lined up at center back. But Warner was not involved. The same was true for fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw, cornerback Charvarius Ward and receiver Jawan Jennings.
• The two top players who participated in the drills: running back Christian McCaffrey and offensive lineman George Kittle. McCaffrey appears to be practicing at regular season speed.
“I got used to it,” Darnold, who was McCaffrey’s teammate in Carolina, said after practice. “He has a work ethic that never changes.”
• The most notable defensive tackle on Tuesday was the team’s new nickel cornerback Isaiah Oliver. At just over 6 feet tall and weighing around 205 pounds, Oliver is the team’s biggest player in recent memory.
He had no trouble moving the weight. He caught two short passes from Lance and another from Darnold and looked to be on the field. Oliver wore number 22, Carlos Rodgers – who served as a nickel cornerback – ten years ago when he was with San Francisco.
• While Oliver has been good, the best defensive play has come from rookie cornerback Darrell Luther Jr. But he knocks the ball home after finishing the play, and his fellow defenders come running to his side to congratulate him.
• Without Ward practicing, Deommodore Lenoir and Samuel Womack III were the first-team cornerbacks. Luther and Ambry Thomas worked with the second class. In Hufanga’s absence, Tashaun Gipson Sr. And George Odum was the first-string safety with top draft picks Jair Brown and Taylor Hawkins working with the second team. The other defensive end, Quantrez Knight, had his arm in a cast and did not practice.
• Two other rookie standouts Tuesday: seventh-round picks Brayden Willis and Ronnie Bell. Willis had a nice one-handed crack at Darnold’s fastball up the middle of the field. Bell, meanwhile, was the most productive receiver of the day, just as he was at the 49ers’ rookie minicamp earlier this month. This is really the beginning of the spring season, and it is not possible to make any accurate assessments. But suffice it to say, Bell is off to a good start.
• In Williams’ absence, Jaylon Moore lined up with the first team at left tackle. Colton Mackiewitz is the new right tackle, taking over for Mike McGlinchey, who signed with the Broncos as expected.
• Two defensive line starters, Bosa and Hargrave, are absent. Their starting spots are filled by Drake Jackson and Javon Kinlaw, respectively. Jackson looks more muscular than he did a year ago, especially in his upper body. Kinlaw, on the other hand, looks slimmer and is starting to resemble his tall, linemate Arik Armstead in looks.
• Finally, here’s what happened in the 49ers’ kicker battle: Both rookie Jake Moody and veteran Zane Gonzalez made four attempts, the last of which was 50 yards into the wind from the right hashmark. Both made the first three attempts…but missed the fourth left lane.
(Top photo of Trey Lance Tuesday: Godofredo A. Vásquez/Associated Press)