'We're not worried about Brock': How a healthy Purdy can take the next step for the 49ers

Booger: There's 'no doubt' 49ers can win Super Bowl with current QBs (2:20)

Domonique Foxworth and Booger McFarland differ on the 49ers' Super Bowl aspirations, with Booger confident Brock Purdy can deliver in San Francisco. (2:20)

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A little more than three weeks into his second NFL training camp, whatever concerns San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy might have about his surgically-repaired right elbow are the least of his worries.

"I feel almost back to normal," Purdy said. "I feel like I've just got to get into a rhythm and play and go through progressions and just play quarterback."

For Purdy, putting the torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow in the rearview mirror has been months in the making. He suffered the injury in the NFC Championship Game against the Philadelphia Eagles on Jan. 29 and had surgery March 10. It's been a long road, but Purdy's thoughts are centered on how he can improve and help the Niners turn their Super Bowl dreams into a reality.

His approach has earned him votes of confidence -- not only in his health but in his status as the team's undisputed starting quarterback.

"I'm not thinking about his injury anymore," coach Kyle Shanahan said. "We're not worried about Brock. Brock's the real deal. He knows how to play and we've just got to have our team keep getting better and he'll keep getting better as we go."

Now that he has mostly checked the health box, the next big question is whether Purdy replicate or improve upon 2022's finishing flourish. San Francisco's hopes of a sixth Lombardi Trophy depend on the answer.

Purdy stepped in for Jimmy Garoppolo after Garoppolo broke his left foot against the Miami Dolphins on Dec. 4. Garoppolo's injury followed the broken right ankle then-starter Trey Lance suffered Sept. 18. So began Purdy's impressive rookie run.

With Purdy under center, the 49ers beat the Dolphins, won five more to close the regular season and two playoff games before losing to the Eagles. Among players with at least 100 pass attempts, Purdy finished the season fifth in QBR (65.6), ninth in completion percentage (67.1%), tied for third in yards per attempt (8.1) and sixth in touchdown to interception ratio (3.25).

It was a performance nobody saw coming.

"He was thrown into a situation, the game goes fast, we're making a playoff push, it's kind of all hands on deck and it's whatever it takes to win," quarterbacks coach Brian Griese said. "It was Brock's first time for everything. And there were a lot of things that he did that were unbelievable that none of us could have expected from a rookie in that scenario."

Given the circumstances, there was little time to worry about things that Purdy didn't do as well. But, with an entire offseason geared toward him being the QB1 once he returned from elbow surgery, Purdy and the Niners have pondered the areas where he can get better. While many outside observers are expecting a regression from the final pick of the 2022 NFL draft, the 49ers believe Purdy can improve.

That starts with striking a delicate balance between knowing when to stand in the pocket and go through his progressions and when to try to make a play off schedule. While Purdy exceeded the Niners' expectations in many areas, none jumped out more than his ability to escape danger, keep his eyes downfield and deliver big plays.

Sometimes, though, Purdy's instinct to evade pressure kicked in a bit too soon, with the lack of patience leaving completions on the table. Among quarterbacks with at least 100 pass attempts, Purdy ranked 29th in the NFL in time before throwing (2.84 seconds). Garoppolo was 11th quickest in the league at 2.66 seconds. Purdy also excelled when staying home, ringing up a 74.9 QBR when throwing from the pocket (first in the NFL) versus 59.7 (13th) when he threw from outside it.

"It's when to break and when not to," Shanahan said. "And I think Brock does as good of a job at that as anyone. But as more of the year went, a couple times later in the playoffs, just missed a couple, leaving the pocket too early ... Then he has to throw it away. But he also kept us on the field a ton leaving it when nothing was there. So there's a fine line with that and stuff that you talk about all the time. But sometimes you got to take the good with the bad."

To be sure, the 49ers don't want to take away one of the things that made Purdy's rookie season so successful. Griese wants Purdy to understand that while things can happen that are out of his control, there's always a certain risk/reward calculus that Purdy can do in his head on a given play. That split-second computation is easier said than done, but it's also why it's important for Purdy to be getting so many practice reps.

Although Purdy has been limited to two days on and one day off during camp practices, he is still getting far more reps than he did a year ago with the third-string offense. The hope is those extra snaps will slow things down so that when a receiver might not be clearly open, Purdy can quickly identify the chances of the play being there and make his decision accordingly.

"Whereas a younger player might need to see it to throw it, more experienced quarterback might take everything into account to understand that there's a 85% chance that that guy should be open right there," Griese said. "And now I'm gonna make that decision because it's first-and-10 and it's not third-and-5 to throw that ball. And to be able to assess that risk and to do that consistently, continually during the course of a game hundreds of times ...

"That's why reps are so important and experience is so important to be able to have a risk/reward analysis when you don't have all of the information and the team depends on you to make the right choice."

Making quicker decisions can also help Purdy stay healthy. Hanging on to the ball longer or spinning away and running out of the pocket can expose a quarterback to injury and Purdy was contacted on 19.4% of his drop backs in 2022. That was 22nd in the NFL and a figure the 49ers would like to reduce.

Armed with more tape and more time to study it, opposing defenses will also have a better idea of how to slow Purdy. Purdy had the NFL's best QBR (88.5) against man coverage and was second in QBR when blitzed (86.0) last season. Those numbers dropped to 50.6 (18th in NFL) and 69.1 (third) when throwing against zone coverage and not blitzed, respectively.

Which means defenses with talented fronts will likely opt for more zone coverage and ask their defensive lines to generate pressure. Not that Purdy isn't putting a ton on himself.

"The bar and the ceiling here is high, and we all expect that out of ourselves," Purdy said. "I have to get better in areas and keep chipping away and keep growing as an offense and keep pushing this offense to get to the level that we want to be."