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Kyle Shanahan feels “really fortunate” with 49ers’ QB room

May 24, 2023 at 2:32 PM

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Kyle Shanahan praises his quarterback room every year. Last season, the San Francisco 49ers went through three starting quarterbacks and still made it to the NFC Championship Game. Trey Lance was the Week 1 starter but suffered a season-ending ankle injury during his second game. Eleven weeks later, Jimmy Garoppolo sustained a broken foot.

That opened the door for rookie Brock Purdy to show his coaches and the NFL world that he belonged, despite being the last overall pick in the draft. Purdy guided the 49ers to eight consecutive wins before suffering a severe injury in that NFC title game matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Two of the quarterbacks from last season—Lance and Purdy—remain. Both are just 23 years old. They are joined by Sam Darnold, who is just 25. More recently, the 49ers added veteran Brandon Allen, the oldest of the group. He is 30 years old.

Is this the most talented quarterback room the 49ers have had during Shanahan's tenure?

"I don't know," the coach responded after being asked that question. "I don't want to compare it to other years, but we have two guys who are talented enough to be taken in the top five of the draft, and we have another guy who played like it last year."

Those first two guys are Lance and Darnold. Both were the No. 3 overall pick in their respective drafts—Lance in 2021 and Darnold in 2018. Lance lacks experience, starting just four games in his two NFL seasons. Darnold has significant experience, having 55 starts under his belt in five seasons, but he has never lived up to being a top-three pick.

Of course, Darnold has never been on a roster as talented as San Francisco's.

By the time the veteran quarterback hit free agency, Shanahan was very familiar with him. The 49ers studied Darnold entering that 2018 draft. The head coach was impressed by the former Trojan's veteran presence even then.

San Francisco continued its homework when he became available via a trade in 2021. Although, the New York Jets opted to ship the quarterback to the Carolina Panthers instead.

Darnold has been taking the approach of a rookie since joining the 49ers. After all, everything, including the system, is new to him.

"He doesn't want to make any assumptions, and he's been awesome in phase one and phase two, trying to do techniques he's not used to and things like that," Shanahan explained. "And it's been cool that he put in the work in those two phases that he's been able to use some of it here in these last two practices."

Lance thought he was progressing well heading into his rookie season. However, a broken right index finger during the preseason changed that. The quarterback struggled to compensate for the injury, which lasted into the following offseason.

"I think the biggest thing my rookie year was just learning," Lance shared, "being able to tie my feet to my arm, and tie my feet to my brain, and how we see concepts, and everything like that. The offense is very specific as far as just tying your feet to your progressions, and I don't think any offense in the country in college is like that, so it was definitely a learning curve for me."

There was also the issue of arm fatigue, a storyline Lance hopes to kill this year. The quarterback had been throwing almost nonstop from his last collegiate game on October 3, 2020, through the draft and offseason with the 49ers.

Lance worked with private quarterback coach Jeff Christensen this offseason to retool his throwing motion. The efforts have seemingly eliminated the issue.

While most view Allen as a camp body, Shanahan has been an admirer for some time. Allen has spent the past three seasons as Joe Burrow's backup in Cincinnati.

"I like the three guys we got, and I've always been a fan of Brandon Allen," Shanahan said. "Just watching him throughout his career and to be able to get him in here also, I feel really fortunate with our four."

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