4 takeaways from the first week of 49ers 2023 training camp

Jul 30, 2023, 8:00 AM

Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers works out during training camp at SAP Performance Facility...

SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA - JULY 27: Trey Lance #5 of the San Francisco 49ers works out during training camp at SAP Performance Facility on July 27, 2023 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

We may only be a few days into the San Francisco 49ers 2023 training camp, but a lot of questions have already been answered.

Here’s what has stood out through the first three days.

Brock Purdy is still QB1 despite being rusty

It’s very early into 2023 training camp, but Brock Purdy has already re-emerged as QB1 for the 49ers.

Only 4.5 months removed from UCL surgery, San Francisco informed the world that Purdy would be ready to go on Thursday, fully cleared to practice once again. This would be the first time the quarterback has played with the team since January, suffering the year to his elbow in the NFC Championship game.

The Arizona native was so giddy about the returning to the field, eager to pick up right where he left off last season. But per usual with big injuries, there’s a bit of a reacclimation process for the player.

Brock Purdy was rusty on his first day back, completing of his 3 of 10 of his throws in 11-on-11s. Starting the period with two incompletions, the Iowa State alum hucked the football into double coverage, allowing safety Tashaun Gipson to pick it off.

Purdy’s first INT of training camp (almost not his last either).

The QB also showed off his arm strength on Day 1, running two Go routes for wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Danny Gray. Both passes were overthrown.

While the team hopes he can hit those throws sooner rather than later, for now, just getting the ball that far is good enough.

Additionally, Purdy insists that he hasn’t been rushed back by the 49ers, just sticking to the plan that the doctors gave him. And while he would have liked to have a full offseason as the starter, he is happy just to be out there competing again.

“There’s just some rust I still gotta knock off. I didn’t get any reps in OTAs or anything like that. Just the pace of the game, seeing a defense dropping back, going through reads. So today, it was good just to get out there. You know, go through some reads and stuff, let it rip,” Purdy said.

Thankfully, he’s bounced back to have a better showing on Day 2, going 6-12. Purdy regained his composure, making plays happening within the offense. It’s also worth noting that he almost threw his second INT, but the defender dropped it.

Despite getting all the first team reps the last two days, the QB also insists that he hasn’t been handed the starting job for next season.

“No, we haven’t had any kind of conversation like that, it’s ‘how can I be great today,’” he said. “I practice, let’s get these reps, let’s get mental reps and let’s continue to grow. Obviously, what we put on tape last year was great and all, but there’s still a lot of areas where I have to grow and get better and stuff. That’s just where we’re at.”

But while Purdy is still competing in his mind, the rest of the competition has surpassed him.

Trey Lance has been inconsistent this far, shining on Day 1 with 5 of 6 passing. That play didn’t carry over into Day 2, struggling against the 49ers’ stout defense. To be fair, every QB struggled Thursday, but Lance was the most noticeable. He would routinely resume playing catch with another QB, or a staff member.

Day 3 wasn’t much better, going 2-5 in 11s. He and Sam Darnold are now splitting the second-team snaps, making it even harder to churn out a decent showing.

Darnold himself has been decent, going 3 for 6 on Day 3. He has been the gunslinger to make the better throws, including a 20-yard out route to Samuel. But he’s also been sacked the most times as well.

Although two QBs are seemingly fighting for the backup spot, both are happy to be afford the opportunities that they have in front of them.

“Just reps. I think this offseason is probably the most I’ve ever thrown maybe in my life with no arm pain, no anything like that,” Trey Lance said. “So definitely just reps, as many reps as I could possibly get this offseason, throwing as many days as I could. That’s what I try to do and just try to get better, one percent every day.”

You don’t have too much time to be thinking about what reps you’re getting. I’m not counting reps out there, I’m just, cliche, but trying to make them count,” Sam Darnold added.

It begs the question if one of Lance or Darnold should be traded. Or maybe it’s just fourth-stringer Brandon Allen that gets shipped out (Cincinnati needs another one now).

Regardless, it’s Purdy’s job to lose at the moment. And unless the signal-caller implodes over the next month, he should have the starting job Week 1 in Pittsburgh.

Brandon Aiyuk & Deebo Samuel: The best 1-2 Combo in Football

This should come as a surprise: Deebo Samuel & Brandon Aiyuk are really good at football.

The pair have started 2023 on fire, showing improved version of themselves. Despite being in different points of their careers, they play off each very well, both on & off the field.

Aiyuk is just coming into his own as a No. 1 option. The Rocklin native has taken the last 18 months by storm, posting his first 1,000-yard season in 2022.

That play has carried over into 2023, catching everything in his direction. His ability to separate and create space is very apparent, cooking the defense at every juncture.

And it’s caught the attention of a few team members.

“From year 1 to now to now, his confidence level is like through the roof,” Deebo Samuel said about his counterpart. “I mean, he walk in, he walk out everyday, like, nobody can guard him. And when you walk around with that type of attitude, you take that out there to the field, I mean, it can only translate. So he’s took his game to another level and it’s very exciting to see.”

On the other side of LOS, Deebo Samuel is coming off a disappointing 2022 season.

The former All-Pro wideout came into 2022 out of shape, marred by a lingering contract dispute all offseason. That contributed to his preparation, feeling sluggish on the field. He finished with only 864 scrimmage yards and five total touchdowns.

And after calling last season “awful”, Deebo has made it a priority to be in the best shape of his life this season.

“This offseason has been pretty good for me. I think this is like the best shape that I’ve been in since 2019,” Samuel stated. “You got that long time of working out, long time of preparation, and like I took them 40 days and I really got to it and got to where I wanted to be.

“I feel kind of faster, lighter on my feet, easier to change direction.”

Samuel does in fact look lighter, slimmed out to his 2019 form when he entered the league. The offensive weapon’s incorporation of different workout regimes has allowed him regain what he lost athletically. That in turn should mean a more dynamic player.

While some receivers have specific goals in mind for the comeback tour, that’s not really Samuel’s style. He’s more concerned with looking at the man in the mirror after each practice.

“How we look at it, like, we’re our own competitors. We’re not competing with nobody else but ourselves,” Deebo Samuel said. “We just got to keep continuing to get better and not pay attention to the outside noise, just compete with ourselves.”

Entering Year 6 with that kind of hungry makes the Soith Carolina native even more dangerous.

Couple that with the emergence of Aiyuk, and the 49ers have themselves a combo that should see a lot of targets in 2023.

The 49ers aren’t worried about Nick Bosa

We’ll discuss San Francisco’s defense to more length in the next segment. What’s worth noting first is that they’re currently missing their best player, Nick Bosa.

The reigning Defensive Player of the Year is holding out at the moment, awaiting his new massive contract extension to be finalized. While the 49ers have every intention of keeping him, the deal is becoming more complex as time ticks away.

Bosa, 25, will likely become the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history after the deal is announced. And while no player is more deserving of it, that could create some problems for the Red & Gold.

San Francisco is already up against the cap, playing multiple stars on long-term deals. That could mean other high salaries get shipped out to make room, or the John Lynch & Co. continue to be salary cap magicians.

Either way, the 49ers aren’t too concerned with Bosa not being at camp.

“We want all our players to be here. We got a pretty good track record of having our guys here and done with contracts. So, like I said, this one may be perhaps a little more complex and no timelines there, but I tell you that we’re working hard. We have good communication and we got to keep doing that. And the interest is mutual,” general manager John Lynch said.

This likely plays out with the pass rusher getting his money sometime after the first week of training camp, before returning to Santa Clara with a business as usual mindset. Bosa always keeps in contact with his guys, according to DL Arik Armstead, doing so now while away from the team.

“He knows how valuable player he is. And he knows he’ll be compensated for it,” Armstead explained. “So, I don’t think he has a worry in his mind and I don’t think we’re here worrying either. The Niners have a great track record and have taken care of people who do things the right way and are exceptional players. And I’m sure that will be taken care of, he definitely deserves it.”

That’s a positive sign for 49ers Faithful, and one that should mean a new contract is nearing a head.

49ers’ goal the last few decades has been the quest for Super Bowl #6. They’ll need Nick Bosa if they want to make a true dent in the postseason.

But for now, they’ll focus on other rotational DLs, the guys that could be in the mix. So far, Javon Kinlaw and Austin Bryant have impressed.

But if we’re being real: It’s time to pay him 49ers, because it doesn’t get any better than this.

San Francisco’s Defense remains King

Remember last season when the 49ers had the best defense in the NFL? Yeah me too. Well, it looks like they’ve recreated that in the first few days of training camp.

San Francisco’s killer defense is off to a hot start in training camp, making life hell for all four QBs. All three facets of the unit have stood out, starting with Fred Warner.

The middle linebacker is the heart & soul of the 49ers’ defense. Without him, they don’t function with efficiency.

In three days of camp, one play in particular stand out. Monitoring a crossing route by Deebo Samuel, Warner picks up on where the ball is going, using speed & timing to knock it out of the sky.

Only a handful of LBs can make a play like that, and they all know it too.

“Again, he just brings the juice. I think it excites the defense. I go back and I think about a guy like [former NFL LB] Thomas Davis in Carolina, Fred’s that guy, very vocal, but also his play is phenomenal,” defensive coordinator Steve Wilks stated.

Because of his outspoken nature, it allows other positions to work as assassins, especially the defensive line.

San Francisco’s DL features top-end talent across the board, from Nick Bosa on one side to newcomer Javon Hargrave in the middle. Throw in Arik Armstead and Drake Jackson, the unit is as fearsome as they come.

But unlike most teams, this unit isn’t very outspoken, letting the game film do the talking.

“I think our stir-up presence is how we play. I don’t think guys want to mess with us,” Armstead stated bluntly.

“The way those guys play up front speaks loud. I want them to continue to play hard, get off the ball and do the things that we’re asking them to do,” Wilks added.

So far, that’s been exactly the case. The DL has routinely got into the backfield in camp, coming up with five would-be sacks already. This is a very deep squad, one that Steve Wilks absolutely loves having.

“The depth that we have across the board, inside and out, man, that’s what I’m talking about. Never been around anything like this,” Wilks said. “We’ve done a tremendous job starting with [general manager] John [Lynch] and [head coach] Kyle [Shanahan] building this roster and getting us the guys that we need to play and succeed with. So, I’m excited about that.”

On top of that, guys like Javon Kinlaw have come into the new season in the best shape of their lives. That willingness to compete and build the right way is apparent for him & others, and it’s something Wilks is noticing.

Well from Day 1, I’ve been talking about Kinlaw and his progression,” Wilks stated. “He stayed here all summer, dedicated himself as far as trying to continue to get his body right. Mentally, he’s in a great spot and just love the way he’s playing violent, hands up front, getting off the ball and the way he’s turning and running and getting to the football is amazing.

Then to the secondary, where All-Pro safety Talanoa Hufanga is putting in work.

The third year player has taken control of the secondary, becoming an extended version of Warner on the backline. He also leads by example, making play after play in camp. One in particular, he traveled across the field to break up and go-route to Danny Gray, barreling towards him like a bat out of hell.

It’s plays like that that make you believe 2022 wasn’t a fluke season.

“That was a hell of a play because I thought Danny beat the corner on it,” Kyle Shanahan said. “I’m curious to see the film, how he got over there so fast because I was told that we looked him off pretty good but he got there fast so that was an impressive play.”

Tashaun Gipson has also reprised his role at safety for the 49ers, joining last season at the end of training camp. The veteran DB wants Year 2 to be a bit different, becoming more vocal within the defense.

His 13-year career can be crucial to the development of other young safeties, like rookie Ji’Ayir Brown.

Although they lost DeMeco Ryans to greener pastures, Steve Wilks has come in seemlessly, only applying minor tweaks to the defense. Because like they say: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

And the Red & Gold’s 2023 defense is about as good as it gets.

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