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What 49ers coach Brian Griese said about Brock Purdy, Trey Lance, and Sam Darnold

Jun 1, 2023 at 5:39 PM--

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After last season, Brian Griese took some time to reflect on his first season as a quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers. He left a 13-season career as a television analyst to join head coach Kyle Shanahan's staff.

Ultimately, the coach decided that the job was fulfilling and opted to return for another season.

"This is an opportunity for me to embrace a new challenge in my life at this point in the journey, and I really appreciate that," Griese told reporters on Thursday. "I appreciate the opportunity. I think there are some experiences and unique skill sets that I have that can help, and I just love being a part of a team and competing and winning and losing."

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Understandably, reporters asked a lot of questions about the 49ers' quarterbacks. Brock Purdy is still recovering from his March 10 surgery to repair the UCL tear he suffered in the NFC Championship Game. He just started some light throwing this week. The plan is to ramp things up over the next few months and see if Purdy can return before the start of the regular season, maybe even sometime during training camp.

In the meantime, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold are competing for the QB2 job. One may be tasked with starting Week 1 if Purdy isn't ready to go.

Sam Darnold

After being drafted by the New York Jets and a run with the Carolina Panthers, San Francisco signed Darnold as a free agent. With 55 starts under his belt, he is the team's most experienced quarterback, and he undoubtedly has the most talented roster around him of his career.

"Sam has come in, and he's been about the work," Griese said. "He's been through a lot in his career. I think everybody that knows football or watches football can see the skill set that Sam has. To me, it was about, Can we give him the structure and the stability upon which he can see how good of a player he can be?

"And I think that our system, our offense is tailor suited to a quarterback coming in and finding their footing and getting stability. And so Sam has that opportunity now. Now, we'll see what he does with that opportunity."

Trey Lance

Lance entered the 2022 season as the 49ers' starting quarterback. However, a devastating ankle injury in Week 2 ended his year.

"It was just a very difficult season for him," Griese said, "and you've got to give him credit for sticking through it, being a part of the team while he was going through it, to getting back healthy. And personally, I haven't seen any impact from the ankle so far in OTAs."

That's good news. Lance seems 100 percent healthy and ready to prove to his coaches that he can help the team win football games.

"Trey did everything he possibly could do last offseason to get healthy," Griese shared. "And I don't think that people realized how difficult that was for him. All the while trying to go out every single day and prove that you can be the guy to lead the team, and I've been in that situation. That's not easy.

"And then to be at that position, to finally have an opportunity to go out and play and then to get hurt so early, it's devastating. It really is. And I'm so proud of Trey because he did not let it—it did get him down—but he didn't let it keep him down. And he came back, and he was around the team. Obviously, he couldn't play on the field, but he impacted this team in a positive way, and you could feel it. I could feel it. I could feel it in our quarterback room. I know Brock could feel it. I know other guys on offense could feel it.

"And that's not a given, especially at a quarterback position. You could slink away and just go lick your wounds and get healthy and come back next year. But that's not who Trey Lance is. And that's why I told him I was so proud of him for what he was able to accomplish off the field because he wasn't able to do it on the field. So I'm just happy that he's back, he's healthy, and he can go out there and see how good he can be."

A big deal has been made of Lance's seemingly improved mechanics this offseason. He worked with private quarterbacks coach Jeff Christensen to clean things up, and the 49ers have noticed a difference.

Lance suffered a finger injury during his rookie preseason. That lasted through his rookie season and into the next offseason, impacting how he threw the football. As a result, some bad habits needed to be fixed due to the quarterback compensating for the injury.

"A lot of the mechanic stuff is, I think, overblown because he had a broken finger," Griese said. "And if I had a ball, I'd show you guys how hard it is to throw the ball without your index finger touching the ball. That's incredibly difficult, and it's almost impossible to throw a spiral that way. So I'm happy that he's healthy and that he can actually pronate and throw the ball the way it's meant to be thrown and that he can give himself a chance to compete."

Brock Purdy

Purdy became the 49ers' starter last season following injuries to Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. The then-rookie quarterback guided San Francisco to eight consecutive wins on the way to the NFC Championship Game, creating one of last season's most captivating storylines.

Purdy isn't there yet, though. In his coach's mind, there remains much room for improvement.

"Brock's got a lot of work to do," Griese said. "He had an unbelievable year. ... I think that Brock has an even demeanor, and he's played a lot of football, so he's been in some of those situations. He's had to deal with some of those peaks and valleys. And I think he had an emotional maturity about him.

"I think that he has a lot of experiences that he hasn't had, and he had a lot of them last year, and some that he dealt with unbelievably well—pressure situations, playoffs. I mean, I remember my position as a rookie. I didn't know where the restroom was. And then to step into a huddle with guys like George Kittle and Christian McCaffrey and Trent Williams and to be able to handle that emotionally, to be able to handle the offense mentally, in a high-pressure situation, in a playoff situation, was not normal for a quarterback his age.

"And so he's got an unbelievable start to his career. Now, there's a lot of things that Brock can and needs to get better at for this team to go where we want to go. And Brock and I, we've had that conversation, and he knows. He's the first one to tell you. And that's normal, too, for a young player. So I'm excited to get him back, get him healthy, and see how good he can be."

What aspects of his game would Griese like to see Purdy develop in his second NFL season?

"Every part of his game," Griese responded. "I think that when you're thrown into the fire, there's a lot that you learn on the fly, and there's a lot of things that we all saw that he does really well. His composure, his accuracy, his escapability.

"I'd love to see him continue to grow in every aspect of playing quarterback. And that's timing, it's rhythm, it's accuracy, it's reading defenses, it's playing from the pocket, limiting turnovers, giving our team the best chance to win."

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