Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

Why Trey Lance faces uphill battle to win 49ers’ starting job, per Kyle Shanahan

Mar 28, 2023 at 12:17 PM--

The San Francisco 49ers expect Brock Purdy to be ready to play between early September and early November. That's a significant range considering the 2023 NFL season begins in early September. Head coach Kyle Shanahan, speaking with reporters at the NFL owners' meetings in Arizona, said the team expects its 23-year-old quarterback's recovery from his March 10 surgery to be six to eight months.

The 49ers will know more in June, when Purdy begins throwing again and starts ramping up his workload as part of his rehab.

"It might be Week 1," Shanahan said. "I think I'm hearing, at the latest, Week 4. But that's just all estimations, and we'll see what happens."

On Monday, general manager John Lynch called Purdy the "leader in the clubhouse" when it comes to the starting quarterback job. Shanahan didn't dispute that. Of course, because of Purdy's injury, third-year quarterback Trey Lance will have an opportunity to prove himself, splitting offseason reps with free-agency acquisition Sam Darnold.

San Francisco made Lance the No. 3 overall pick in 2021, trading significant draft capital to acquire him. Two years later, it appears Purdy, the last overall pick in the 2022 draft, has surpassed him in the minds of the 49ers coaches.

Lance suffered a season-ending ankle injury in September. Then, in early December, Jimmy Garoppolo went down with a broken foot, opening the door for Purdy, who won that Week 13 matchup against the Miami Dolphins and the seven games that followed, including two playoff contests.

Despite being picked No. 262, dubbed "Mr. Irrelevant," Purdy proved he belonged in the NFL, helping guide the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game before suffering a tear of the ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow.

"Brock played eight games and won all of them and played at an extremely high level," Shanahan said, "and we're very excited to have that level of a player as our quarterback. Now, we believe Trey can be that. I think he would have done it last year if he stayed healthy. The good thing for him is, with Brock being hurt and stuff, he has an opportunity to try to regain that and everything."

It might be an uphill battle for Lance, who has started only four games in his two NFL seasons. Purdy proved himself in regular-season and playoff action. Can Lance do the same this offseason without the benefit of coaches seeing him perform during in-game action?

"I think it's going to be harder for him, too," Shanahan responded. "I mean, Brock played in eight games, and Trey had that job going into last season. And if he would have played eight games like that, no one else would have been able to come in and beat him out.

"But with Brock being hurt, it does open [things] up, and it does give him a chance. Now, I don't know how Brock's going to come back. I don't know exactly when he's going to come back, so I don't have the exact answer for that. But right now, because he is hurt, it's nice to focus on Trey, it's nice to focus on Sam, and see how they do [in] OTAs and most likely see how they're playing, leading us into training camp, because I think it will take some time for Brock."

Lance is expected to be fully cleared when the 49ers kick off their offseason program. Shanahan confirmed that the quarterback has started throwing and is working with quarterback coaches.

Shanahan added, "I'm excited to get into phase one so we can start working together."

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