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49ers Notebook: Crucial offseason for Purdy; O-line confidence; Shanahan on new kickoff rule, Dobbs signing; Hufanga eyes training camp return

Mar 26, 2024 at 11:00 AM

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San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan doesn't have to field as many quarterback questions as he did a year ago after Brock Purdy underwent surgery, the arrival of Sam Darnold, and the uncertainty surrounding the future of Trey Lance. The quarterback situation is clearer now than it has been in recent years.

For Purdy, this offseason holds significant importance. It marks the first time he can focus on on-field improvement during minicamps, OTAs, and training camp. While he had this opportunity as a rookie in 2022, he was buried on the depth chart, limiting his practice reps.

Last year, Purdy was still recovering from surgery to repair the torn ulnar collateral ligament (UCL) in his right elbow. He didn't get to throw to his teammates until training camp in late July.

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"I'm just pumped that Brock gets an offseason," Shanahan stated Tuesday morning while speaking to reporters at the NFL owners meetings. "I mean, his first year he didn't get much of one just because he was the third quarterback. Last year was all about he couldn't really throw with us until training camp. And this year, he just got married, he's fully healthy.

"He's going to come back here in a couple of weeks, and we'll get going. And I'm just pumped to be able to go through the film with him and to be on the field with him, which he hasn't had a chance to do yet in his career."

Purdy was impressive last season despite coming off major surgery. The quarterback was an MVP nominee and set a new 49ers single-season franchise record with 4,280 passing yards. What are Purdy's next steps in his NFL journey and quest to improve as a player?

"It'll just be getting more consistent on everything," Shanahan shared. "I mean, when you have a whole season to review yourself—[in 2022], he had seven games. When you get a whole season, there's so much tape to go over that it takes a long time to get through. And you always want to be perfect, and no one ever will be. But when you have the reps that he's had now, he can review that stuff and take it to the field.

"When we get back on April 15 together, we'll watch, we'll do all the quick game, we'll do all five steps, all seven steps, we'll do the play actions, we'll do the movement, that stuff that [quarterbacks coaches Brian] Griese and [Klay] Kubiak will take him on the field and be working at every day."

O-line confidence

After revamping the defensive line via free agency, there is no doubt that the 49ers will address the offensive line in next month's draft. However, Shanahan expressed confidence in the unit they have in place, which consists of newly re-signed guard Jon Feliciano.

Shanahan admits that he didn't envision Feliciano playing as well as he did last season. The offensive lineman, acquired last offseason, was a pleasant surprise.

"He had to change his style a little bit, get used to kind of how we do it," Shanahan commented. "It didn't jump off right away, but by the time we get into training camp, you can tell we had a real good player. And once he got out there on the field, and the way he was in games on Sundays and stuff, the way he reacted in the huddle, the way the guys kind of gravitated to him, you could tell football wasn't too big for him. He almost could figure anything out."

Right now, the offensive line resembles the unit the team put on the field last season, and that's fine with Shanahan, who knows continuity will be significantly beneficial.

"I think the more the O-line plays together, the better they get," Shanahan said. "I mean, I think it's the one position on the field with five guys. You've really got to work a lot from the practice and offseason, OTAs, and training camp throughout the year. You watch an O-line, usually, in the last half of the year compared to the first, it's usually getting better if it can stay healthy. And we've been able to do that for the most part, and excited to get our group back.

"And hopefully, we'll always keep looking to add, improve through the draft, and things like that, get some more competition in there. But I've been really happy with our group."

The 49ers also signed Colton McKivitz to a contract extension despite some inconsistent play from the right tackle. Most believe a succession plan for that position might come from the draft.

However, Shanahan praised McKivitz's play, declaring, "He's done a hell of a job at right tackle for us. Just did it all for this [past] year. We had a lot of confidence in him going into this year. He's the exact type of guy we want. He's one of the real leaders on our team, and I thought he did a hell of a job playing this year."

Thoughts on the new kickoff rule

The 49ers were among the teams that voted against the new kickoff rule change that the NFL hopes will reduce injuries. Under the new rules, players will align themselves closer together, resembling a typical scrimmage play. The change aims to promote more returns, as no fair catches are allowed, while reducing space and speed to prevent violent collisions.

Anyone who has watched the XFL in recent years will find the new formations very familiar.

"I think it's interesting," Shanahan said when asked what he expects from the rule change. "I don't think anyone totally knows because when you put guys in different spots that they've never been put in before, there's different timing, and how it's going to play out, so I think we'll all find out about it.

"But I think it will be fun to watch, but your guess is as good as mine. We're all going to have to figure it out as we go. And I think that will be a fun thing in the league, but I think it's going to be a different thing each week."

Josh Dobbs signing

Journeyman quarterback Josh Dobbs was brought in to replace Darnold as Purdy's backup. After playing with the Arizona Cardinals for part of 2023, Dobbs returns to the NFC West following a brief stint with the Minnesota Vikings, who coincidentally signed Darnold.

When asked what went into the decision to sign Dobbs, Shanahan responded, "I just thought he was real tough to play against, especially in Arizona. The way he ran their scheme, I thought he made them a tough team to beat. I love how consistent he was. You could tell that whatever their game plan was, he executed extremely well.

"I love how competitive he was when he ran, how physically he played, able to break tackles and things like that. And I thought he gave their team a good chance to win."

Keeping Jauan Jennings

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Jauan Jennings has yet to sign his tendered contract. While he recently posted a photo of the offer letter from the 49ers, some mistakenly took it for a signed contract.

Jennings will likely return to the 49ers for the upcoming season. Another team is unlikely to surrender a second-round draft pick to sign the receiver. There is still a chance San Francisco will work out a long-term deal with Jennings. However, for now, the player is set to earn $4.89 million in 2024.

Shanahan emphasized the significance of the 49ers' ability to retain Jennings, stating it's "huge" and expressing hope that the young receiver will remain with the team for a long time.

"Jauan's always been a baller," Shanahan continued. "I think you watch his college tape, the way he plays, Jauan's always been this way. He's a gamer, plays so physically. I think he's only gotten more and more physical each year, the style of how he plays, how big he is.

"I think people sleep on him a little bit and don't realize how big and physical he is until they get him on game day, and he catches a lot of guys off guard."

Shanahan added, "Jauan only plays one way. That's why all the defensive guys want to fight him in training camp. And I have to show the defensive guys his game film so they realize he's not just being a jerk out there, he actually only plays that way. It's his style. He plays to the whistle, and the mentality he has when he does is pretty unique."

Hufanga's recovery timeline

The 49ers have been exploring their options at the safety position, recently hosting free agent Julian Blackmon on a visit. San Francisco has also been speaking to safeties as part of its draft evaluations.

The team's All-Pro safety, Talanoa Hufanga, suffered a torn ACL in November but is on the road to recovery. The San Francisco Chronicle recently reported that Hufanga's starting job is not guaranteed, perhaps due in part to the severity of his injury.

"It's always scary coming back from an ACL, but once you come back, in this day and age, it's usually okay," Shanahan said. "[We] expect to get him some time in training camp, so that should be all right."

If Hufanga returns in time for Week 1, he will likely be paired with second-year safety Ji'Ayir Brown. Last year's other starter, Tashaun Gipson, remains a free agent. However, on Monday, general manager John Lynch didn't dismiss the possibility of Gipson returning for another season.

Providing his own update on Hufanga's progress, Lynch stated, "Talanoa is doing really well. That's the great news. He's rehabbing extremely well, beating the timeline. Everybody does. But Talanoa is a worker, and he's doing a great job."

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Shanahan emphasized that while adding a safety like Blackmon via free agency or the draft is possible, newcomers must understand that they will compete for a starting job as no one is guaranteed a spot.

Helpful fullback

Kyle Juszczyk was one of several 49ers players who restructured their contracts to offer some cap relief this year. The fullback has been with the 49ers since Shanahan was hired in 2017.

While Juszczyk remains the highest-paid fullback in the NFL, his restructuring helped the team comply with the salary cap limit ahead of the new league year.

"That was huge," Shanahan said. "Kyle's a big part of this team. He has been since we've gotten here, and we would have hated to lose him. So for Kyle to do that was great for us, great for him to be able to stay with us, and I'm really happy he decided to do that."

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