July 23, 2024
Brock Purdy made a one-series cameo, Trey Lance built a fourth-quarter comeback and rookie kicker Jake Moody shook off an early miss for Saturday's 21-20 preseason win over the Denver Broncos.

SANTA CLARA — Brock Purdy played, and played like 2022 vintage Brock Purdy.

Sam Darnold played, then played some more.

Lastly, Trey Lance entered, overcame an interception, then produced a fourth-quarter comeback in Sunday’s preseason win over the Denver Broncos to certainly boost his stock and confidence.

“We all want to see him succeed and do great,” Purdy said of his pal and predecessor, Lance. “To go out there and chip away and put together two great drives at the end, it was awesome to see.”

Three quarterbacks, three wild career paths, and just three weeks until the regular season starts.

Coach Kyle Shanahan went only so far as to say his quarterback trio did “a good job,” toward “a stepping stone for next week.” Wait, really? Yes, Shanahan claimed Purdy will play with other starters in Friday’s preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi’s Stadium, which won’t host the 49ers again until a Week 3 visit by the New York Giants on Thursday, Sept. 21.

Purdy, with his elbow appearing quite ready for the Sept. 10 opener at Pittsburgh, said he just needs to “to practice consistently, so, come Week 1, I’ll be ready to rip it.”

Time remains to overanalyze the Darnold-Lance backup race, and for possibly the Cincinnati Bengals to try retrieving Brandon Allen as Joe Burrow’s backup via trade. But enough about the QB Quad.

Time to review 10 things that caught my eye in the 49ers’ first game there since last January’s divisional-playoff elimination of the Dallas Cowboys:

10. HARGRAVE’S LOCKER

Item No. 10 here is fitting, because, well, does defensive tackle Javon Hargrave know that the guy who previously occupied his locker was No. 10 Jimmy Garoppolo? “That’s what they tell me. Kittle made sure I knew that,” Hargrave said. “They said it’s one of the best lockers, so I’m feeling it.”

Hargrave, this offseason’s prize of free agency, started Saturday and enjoyed his home debut, even if it was preseason. “Still, I felt the energy as soon as I went out there. It was a great feeling,” said Hargrave, whose lone tackle stopped Russell Wilson a yard short of a first down.

9. LATU’S POSITIVE PLAYS

Plagued by drops and penalties throughout his first training camp, Cameron Latu “looked at today as a new opportunity to grow.” His confidence indeed mushroomed, starting with a diving catch of an 8-yard pass from Sam Darnold. In the fourth quarter, Latu had a 16-yard catch on third-and-13 to keep alive a drive that ultimately ended with him snagging a 22-yard touchdown pass from Lance.

“I was real happy for him,” Shanahan said. “Sometimes when (drops) start in practice, it’s tough to get out of it. A lot of eyes were on him, and he had a few of ‘em and it kind of steamrolled on him, that usually makes it hard to go into games like he did today. … He made a hell of a catch on his first one, which probably took the monkey off his back a little bit, got him relaxed a little.”

8. ROOKIES FORCE FUMBLES

Rookie linebackers Jalen Graham and Dee Winters each forced a second-half fumble, and while the 49ers did not recover either, creating potential turnovers is a great way to impress coaches. Said Graham: “I have to just keep doing what I’m supposed to do: Get them turnovers when you can.”

7. RETURN ISSUES

Undrafted rookie D’Shawn Jamison did himself no favors muffing a punt return at the 14-yard line, leading to a Broncos touchdown on the next snap. Then again, the 49ers sent him out there for a fourth-quarter punt that he cleanly field at the 22, and the winning drive ensued.

With Ray-Ray McCloud likely sidelined into October after wrist surgery, the 49ers need to find a return specialist, and Ronnie Bell got first crack at it this game. He had a 28-yard punt return in the third quarter, but that came after a second-quarter fumble of a reception (more on his hands later).

Danny Gray returned the opening kickoff but sustained a collarbone injury, so solving the kick-return role is another issue at hand.

The 49ers will be scouring their and 31 other rosters for return specialists.

6. BELL’S HANDS

On the opening drive after halftime, Darnold zipped a pass to Bell, only to have the ball ricochet off his facemask for an interception. Last game, Bell had a Brandon Allen pass go through his hands for an interception.  “I’ve gotta catch the ball. I don’t even know really what it is, but I have to figure it out,” Bell said. “That’s two (games) in a row. Last week I felt I let myself relaxed. This week I couldn’t tell you what I did.”

Bell rebounded with 19- and 43-yard catches after the two-minute warning to spark the winning drive and earn praise from his locker mate, Lance. “He’s been making plays. He does it every day in practice,” Lance said. “Some of the tackles he breaks are very impressive.”

5. DEEBO’S IMPACT

Deebo Samuel’s offseason overhaul is showing up in many ways, beyond just accounting for Purdy’s first two completions (25 and 14 yards).

When Samuel walked out of the locker room, he said two words to awaiting reporters: “Ronnie Bell.” Bell’s take on that: “It’s definitely like a big-brother relationship, and I appreciate him more than anything. He’s a guy throughout this process who’s taken me under his wing and really been with me in any type of situation where I’m struggling, like at the beginning of camp and not getting reps. He’s always been there telling me to keep going and I’m going to be good.”

Purdy noted that Samuel has a “totally different mindset” from last season and is hustling on every play, stating: “Today I feel we saw a glimpse of how he’s going to do his job: When he gets the ball, he’s going to be Deebo, but even when he doesn’t, he’s still going to be where he needs to be, and be there for the team to set the standard.”

4. RUNNING BACK ATTRITION

The 49ers go through running backs more than quarterbacks, folks, and this preseason is no exception. Jeremy McNichols left with a hamstring injury Saturday, less than two weeks after he arrived and the 49ers waived Ronald Awatt. Prior to the game, the 49ers released Khalan Laborn, an undrafted rookie like Awatt.

The main four rushers are still in the opening-day picture, however. Christian McCaffrey had an excellent camp, and he rested this game. Elijah Mitchell’s been out two weeks with a groin issue but has looked good running on the side. Saturday, Ty Davis-Price had 22 yards (four carries) and Jordan Mason 24 yards (eight carries).

3. DEFENSIVE END ISSUES

Boy, the 49ers really could use a healthy Nick Bosa … in three weeks. He’s skipped training camp and, once the preseason officially ends, look for contract talks to expedite. Two years ago, Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher T.J. Watt landed his massive contract extension only days before the season opener. Bosa remains headed for the largest contract in NFL history for a non-quarterback, even if Aaron Donald’s deal of over $32 million annually seems like an outlier.

Anyhow, the 49ers started Kerry Hyder Jr. and Clelin Ferrell at defensive end, and Hyder exited with a shoulder injury that is not believed to be serious. Drake Jackson looks on the verge of coming off a hamstring injury, so that should be a boost. But the 49ers had Taco Charlton join Darryl Johnson on Injured Reserve, so attrition certainly struck that Bosa-less unit this month.

2. MOODY MANIA

After missing two field goals in his debut at Las Vegas, then sailing his first point-after attempt wide at Levi’s Stadium, Moody set himself up for … his first game-winning, walk-off kick in his entire career?

“I had one at Michigan when there was like 13 seconds left, so technically (the other team) could have come back and scored,” Moody said. “That was the first walk-off game-winner I’ve ever had, so that was pretty cool.”

Moody may be seen as a third-round gamble but he’s also a lock to replace Robbie Gould, who remains a free agent. Moody made his three field-goal attempts this game, from 20, 43 and, for the win, 32 yards.

As for the misses: “Me and coach (Brian Schneider, the special teams coordinator) have been talking. He said that doesn’t really look like me, from what he’s seen in practice. It’s different stuff we’re experimenting with. We’re just trying to make me as comfortable as possible, to do what I’ve been doing in practice. I’m getting used to games again. It’s a learning process, how to deal with misses, then bounce back and make the next one.”

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1. PURDY HEALTH CHECK

The No. 1 issue all offseason has been Purdy’s health. Only, it hasn’t been a problematic issue, just more of a concern. Here is Purdy’s update:

“We still monitor in a sense of how many throws and this and that,” Purdy said. “It’s not like we’re going to be: ‘You can go throw out your arm every single day.’ It’s, ‘How’s your arm feeling? And, ‘We’re going to get you reps.’ I feel really good, honestly. Even with one day off then three days in a row, I feel good about that.”

The 49ers will practice Monday through Wednesday this week, then be off Thursday before the Chargers visit on Friday night.

As for Purdy’s near-daily interception in practices, “It’s not like I’m going out there throwing stuff up and trying stuff out. I’m a competitor. I want to rip the ball. Coming off an injury, I want to see where I’m at with throws. It’s practice for a reason.”

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