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Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

49ers Notebook: Mutual admiration between Brock Purdy, David Montgomery; All is quiet between Deebo and Chauncey Gardner-Johnson... for now; Praise for Clelin Ferrell

Jan 26, 2024 at 6:35 PM

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The hours are starting to count down to Sunday's showdown in the NFC Championship game at Levi's Stadium between the Detroit Lions and San Francisco 49ers (6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT, FOX). Both teams finished their week of practice on Friday and took time to speak with reporters once more before heading into their pregame routine.

Part of that routine for the Lions, of course, will be the flight to California before going through any necessary preparations on the Saturday before the game. The 49ers will have the luxury of relaxing at home in between whatever they need to do at Levi's Stadium in the meantime, as quarterback Brock Purdy explained to reporters Friday.

"The (process will be the) same as really this whole year, just in terms of going through my process on a Friday night, Saturday morning -- come here for a walk-through Saturday and continue to study the plays and everything, but at the same time, keep it simple," Purdy said. "All year I've had a process in how I handle my stuff and how I get ready for a game and I try not to overcomplicate things and so other than that I'm going to just go into this game just like I have all year, so I'm excited for it."

Defensive lineman Arik Armstead detailed his pregame routine as well, which sounded like a fairly standard approach before kickoff.

"The routine's the same -- try to get some rest, take care of my body, wake up in the morning, get moving around," Armstead said Friday. "Head over to the stadium early, get moving around, get treatment, finish up on some last film or review my assignments, then get my mind right to take the field."

There won't be any special pregame speeches either, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan. He'll talk to his team on Saturday night, but he doesn't feel there will be the need to say anything highly motivational.

"I'll tell them that tomorrow night, but it won't be anything magical," Shanahan said Friday. "Our guys are ready for the moment. We'll say a few things tomorrow night, which is always extremely overrated. And we'll get to bed, and we'll get up ready to go."

So at this point there's not much more for the 49ers to do or say before taking the field on Sunday and doing what they need to do to reach their first Super Bowl since the 2019 season. There wasn't too much new coming from either team before taking off for the weekend on Friday, aside from the news of wide receiver Deebo Samuel (shoulder) being cleared to play, but we're going to round up more of what Shanahan and each of those players said in this version of 49ers Notebook before heading into the quiet before the storm. Let's get started...

* Iowa State memories: Two of Sunday's key offensive players -- Purdy and Lions running back David Montgomery -- were teammates in college at Iowa State University for a time, and on Friday each of them discussed what they remember about the other.

Montgomery was a junior at Iowa State when Purdy came in as a freshman and unexpectedly took over the starting spot. Montgomery departed for the NFL after one season with Purdy, but that was more than enough time to be impressed.

"He wasn't supposed to be the guy and he was the guy. He's been running ever since," Montgomery said. "Resilient guy. Very, very quiet off the field; very, very loud on the field. Definitely is a leader -- I could see that... my junior year when he came in and he kind of just took the reins and just ran with it. He's a different, special kind of human."

Purdy was equally complimentary about Montgomery, who the 49ers last faced in Week 1 of the 2022 season when he was with the Bears. Montgomery and rookie Jahmyr Gibbs form a running tandem that will be a challenge for the 49ers to stop on Sunday.

"David was one of the hardest workers I've ever been around," Purdy said. "That's the kind of guy that just doesn't go down easy. He's always moving his feet, explosive, great quick cuts. And this week I haven't really been able to talk to my defense about that. I mean, they've seen him, I think a lot just the last couple years when he was in Chicago, so they know who he is. But yeah, I have nothing but love and respect for David and what he's done, and he's a tough dude to get to. He's mentally strong, he's tough, he's physical and it's going to be a good challenge to go up against him again."

Purdy's season with Montgomery was the first in his four seasons as a starter at Iowa State. He's been able to use that experience to his advantage over the first two years of his NFL career.

"Yeah, I think it was good to play four years of college ball and go and play in different environments and stages and levels, the games being on a higher level," Purdy said. "So, for me I took a lot away from those kind of games. I think it helped sort of build me into who I am just in terms of finding out what I do good and what I don't and how it can be better. So, I definitely remember a lot of games where I feel like it was a high-stakes game and how I performed and so I can sort of go back to those experiences and remember, man, I should have done this better or I remember I did do that well. So, for this game, the NFC Championship, I want to keep it simple, not blowing it out of proportion in my mind or anything, but at the same time, sort of have some juice because this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity. So have to be excited about that more than anything too."

Better than a lump of coal

Perhaps the most entertaining moment of Friday's media sessions came when Shanahan was talking about offensive tackle Alfredo Gutierrez, who has been with the 49ers since 2021 as part of the NFL's International Player Pathway Program. League rules allow participants in the program to be eligible for a practice squad exemption, enabling teams to carry them as an extra practice squad member.

A product of Mexico, Gutierrez hasn't seen any playing time on Sundays but has been able to get his feet wet during the preseason. And on Christmas, he gave Shanahan a present he'll never forget.

"I love Fredo. He's been awesome," Shanahan said. "You never know it's going to be when you get that extra player. But to get a guy of Fredo's size (6-9, 322) and stuff like that, it's been great to be able to use him and things. I think he's gotten a lot better since he's been here, and he's an awesome dude. Guys love him. For Christmas, he got me a Mexican bottle of tequila with a real scorpion in it, so I thought that was pretty cool."

The 49ers added another IPPP participant earlier this week when they signed former Cowboys offensive lineman Isaac Alarcón to a reserve/future contract. Shanahan hasn't worked with Alarcón yet but will have the chance in the coming offseason.

"I'm looking forward to getting to know him," Shanahan said.

A good pick-up

The 49ers have had a good degree of success over the past few seasons in signing "reclamation projects" to their defensive line, meaning talented players who may not have produced up to expectations elsewhere but were given a new start in San Francisco. In 2023, the 49ers took a flyer on former first-round pick Clelin Ferrell by signing him to a one-year deal after four up-and-down seasons with the Raiders.

Ferrell had a successful regular season for the 49ers, totaling 28 tackles and 3.5 sacks in 17 games. But he unfortunately didn't get the chance to help the team in the playoffs due to a knee injury that resulted in surgery.

Shanahan told reporters Friday that the team was hoping to have Ferrell in uniform for their Divisional Round matchup against the Green Bay Packers, but it wasn't meant to be in the end.

"We were trying to, and there's always a risk with it, but you got to weigh in those percentages and stuff," Shanahan said. "We tried to give him as long to wait as we could before we went through and got a surgery for him. He wanted to wait at first because everybody wants a chance to, 'Can we win this game and him have a chance to be ready in two weeks if that happens?' But when we just looked into it and all the scenarios, it wasn't the best thing for him and would have been too much risk and really wasn't worth that risk, so we had to go through with the surgery."

Despite that, Ferrell made a strong impression on Shanahan and the rest of the 49ers. Other defensive linemen the 49ers have taken flyers on in recent years, such as Arden Key and Charles Omenihu, have gone on to sign free agent deals with other teams. Perhaps Ferrell will do the same, but the 49ers would probably also like to keep him around if possible.

"Cle's been awesome this year, I think," Shanahan said. "The way he plays the run, the way he runs to the ball, Cle's been a very good add for us on defense and we really appreciate him. I still wish he was playing with us, and I know he does, too. But the guys love Cle as a person, (and) he's been really good for us this year."

A long road

Sunday will mark the fifth NFC Championship in a 49ers uniform for Armstead, although he had to go through some tough seasons to get there.

A first-round draft pick of the 49ers in 2015, Armstead was part of two dismal losing seasons before Shanahan was hired in 2017. He had to experience two more losing seasons before things turned around with a Super Bowl run in 2019, but there was a difference in those two seasons, thanks to Shanahan.

"When he came, they brought a new energy, a new sense of urgency, and it definitely was a change in the culture," Armstead recalled Friday. "It was a lot of hard, hard work, and everyone was trying to prove we deserved to be here when they got here. There was a new energy around the building. It was good though. Instantly when he came in he talked about building a brotherhood and how the best teams are the closest teams and how we have to treat one another."

Armstead remains the longest-tenured 49er and is the lone holdover from the pre-Shanahan days. So there's no doubt he'll appreciate another chance to play for a spot in the Super Bowl after what he experienced early in his career.

"We put a lot of hard work in to get us to this point where we've got it turned around and winning a bunch of football games," Armstead said.

They probably won't be as quiet on gameday

Anyone hoping to hear any spicy comments from Deebo Samuel or Lions safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson came away disappointed this week, as Samuel deflected a question about Gardner-Johnson while Gardner-Johnson wasn't interested in talking about the 49ers much at all.

The two players engaged in some unfriendly back-and-forth on social media earlier in the season, with Gardner-Johnson at one point saying to Samuel, "Don't be friendly when you see me because I can guard you. You can't run routes. You're a running back." But there were no such unpleasantries exchanged between them this week.

Gardner-Johnson spoke with reporters in Detroit on Thursday and didn't comment much on the 49ers, at one point even skipping a question about the talent on the 49ers' offense. Samuel was asked about Gardner-Johnson on Friday and responded, "I pay that no mind. He's just got to come in and strap it up."

Stay tuned to see if Samuel and Gardner-Johnson run into each other on Sunday, and who gets the final bragging rights in the end.
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