Steve Mariucci sees 49ers thrive as NFC West ‘comes apart at seams’

LOS GATOS — Steve Mariucci’s analysis on the 49ers’ quarterback predicament? Options abound, starting with Brock Purdy.

‘If everyone were healthy, and I hope that it will be that way soon, then to me, it’s Brock Purdy’s job,” said Mariucci, an NFL Network analyst who served as the 49ers’ coach from 1997-2002.

This offseason’s No. 1 question, unanswerable for now, is precisely when Purdy will be healthy, after March 10 surgery to repair his elbow’s ulnar collateral ligament that got torn in the NFC Championship Game loss at Philadelphia.

So, as a coach, when do you make that call?

“I would wait until he shows that he’s healthy,” Mariucci said Tuesday, at his 25th annual charity bocce tournament at Campo di Bocce.

“You’ve gotta watch practice,” Mariucci added. “You gotta gauge his pain threshold. You gotta gauge his accuracy and arm strength on the practice field. You gotta evaluate that arm.”

The 49ers won 12 consecutive games — eight straight once Purdy replaced an injured Jimmy Garoppolo — before Purdy’s elbow-ligament tear early in a 31-7 loss in the NFC Championship Game to the Philadelphia Eagles, who then lost the Super Bowl to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Purdy, by virtue of last season’s rookie surge, is penciled in as the 49ers’ starter for the Sept. 10 opener at Pittsburgh. That assumes Purdy will be healthy. He just began throwing a football last week for the first time since surgery.

Mariucci is keen on the 49ers’ contingency plans, where they could turn to Lance or Darnold, who’ve presided over offseason practices while Allen lingers in the backdrop (similar to Purdy’s limited reps a year ago).

“I mean, I don’t make that call. Kyle (Shanahan) makes that call. But I would do (pick Purdy), because I would ride the hot hand,” Mariucci added. “It’s pretty simple: ride the hot hand, and if Brock Burdy gets healthy and modern medicine fixes those injuries, and so does time, they — and he’ll — be fine.

“It’s going to be a heck of a football team, because the division is coming apart at the seams.”

The 49ers are the NFC West’s defending champions for only the fifth time since Mariucci’s final season, in 2002, which ended with a divisional playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (and future 49ers general manager John Lynch). Mariucci spent two-plus years as the Detroit Lions coach before establishing himself as a marquee analyst for NFL Network.

Shanahan and the 49ers hope Purdy — or Trey Lance or Sam Darnold or Brandon Allen — could lead them to their first Super Bowl triumph since the 1994 season, not to mention their first Pro Bowl quarterback since Mariucci’s dismissal.

Shanahan, after Tuesday’s minicamp practice, said of Purdy’s comeback trail: “Everything’s right on track.”

Steve Mariucci, right, and Ronnie Lott at Mariucci's 25th annual charity bocce tournament at Campo di Bocce in Los Gatos on Tuesday, June 6, 2024 (Cam Inman/Bay Area News Group)
Steve Mariucci, right, and Ronnie Lott at Mariucci’s 25th annual charity bocce tournament at Campo di Bocce in Los Gatos on Tuesday, June 6, 2024 (Cam Inman/Bay Area News Group) 

As Mariucci ponders the alternatives, he defers to Shanahan’s behind-the-scenes intellect.

“As a media person, you say: ‘Oh, well, (Lance) hasn’t played much. He hasn’t done anything or stayed healthy,’ ” Mariucci said. “As a coach, I say: ‘I am not in those meetings and I don’t see him on a daily basis, as to how he prepares and how smart he is, and how driven he is, and some of those intangibles don’t show to the general public.’ ”

A year ago, Mariucci was very impressed by Lance upon visiting training camp and recalled how the 49ers’ brass was “100% sold on Trey Lance.”

Lance battled a finger injury his 2021 rookie year, he sustained a season-ending ankle fracture in Week 2 last season, and he’s proclaimed himself 100% healthy for this offseason program, which concludes with Wednesday’s minicamp practice.

“They really believed he was going to be that guy,” Mariucci said. “So, in my mind, if he is healthy and gets another opportunity and stays healthy, I think he can be a heck of a quarterback.”

San Francisco 49er's quarterback Sam Darnold throws the ball during a practice session at the 49er's practice facility at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group)
San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Sam Darnold throws the ball during a practice session at the 49er’s practice facility at Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif., on Tuesday, May 23, 2023. (Shae Hammond/Bay Area News Group) 

What about Darnold? Mariucci recalled admiring his USC days before Darnold failed to resuscitate the New York Jets and the Carolina Panthers the past five seasons combined.

“if the other guys are struggling or not quite ready, he can do it,” Mariucci said of Darnold. “He is more than serviceable. He can win games.  That’s the best team he’s ever played on.”

That’s been the offseason calling card for Darnold’s potential renaissance.

Can Mariucci or anyone really tell, however, what any quarterback’s potential is during the offseason practices, which are non-contact sessions with mostly no pass rush in 7-on-7 sessions?

“No,” Mariucci answered, “but you can tell if somebody looks pathetic.”

By the way, Mariucci’s 25th annual charity bocce tournament was as exemplary as ever. The event has raised over $8 million since its inception, benefitting organizations including Northern California Special Olympics, Peninsula Boys & Girls Club, Mariucci Family Foundation, Diabetic Youth Foundation, Easter Seals Kaleidoscope, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, and, local high school football programs.

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