49ers to sit Brock Purdy vs. Rams; Sam Darnold to get start

ByNick Wagoner ESPN logo
Thursday, January 4, 2024

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- With the top seed in the NFC playoffs and the bye that comes with it already wrapped up, San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan has spent the past few days pondering his options when it comes to resting key players in the regular season finale.

While the extent of the rest Shanahan will give his stars is unknown, he said Wednesday that starting quarterback Brock Purdy will not face the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday.

Sam Darnold will start in Purdy's stead.

"Brock is the only [healthy] guy I for sure don't plan on playing," said Shanahan, who added that he and his staff spent the past 72 hours discussing their options.

NFL teams can declare up to seven players inactive when they elevate a couple players from the practice squad, but the Niners already have most of Sunday's inactives spoken for because of players dealing with injury.

That list includes running back Christian McCaffrey (calf), defensive lineman Arik Armstead (foot), tight end Ross Dwelley (ankle), cornerback Ambry Thomas (hand), safety Ji'Ayir Brown (knee) and safety Tashaun Gipson (quad).

Because the NFL now allows teams to carry an emergency third quarterback on game days, Purdy can plug into that spot and be an inactive while also still being available if needed. Brandon Allen will be the No. 2 option behind Darnold.

On Wednesday, Purdy split reps with Darnold in a half-speed practice, but Darnold will get the majority of the starter's reps in the full-speed Thursday session before the Niners go back to walk-through pace Friday.

"I want our team to treat this week as like Brock going down on the first play of the game," Shanahan said. "That's why I want them both repping it. I want Brock to get some work this week, and that's something I'd like us to be ready for if that unfortunately did happen."

As for some of his other star players, Shanahan has said repeatedly this week that he wants his team to at least prepare as though the bulk of the starters will play against the Rams. That doesn't necessarily mean all of the stars will go, and it almost certainly means those star players won't play all four quarters.

Linebacker Fred Warner said Wednesday that he hasn't been told that his role will be different and he's preparing for a full workload just in case.

"[My] expectation right now is to play and play the entire game until told otherwise," Warner said. "I'm going to prepare like I'm playing no matter what and then whatever the head coach says, goes."

Defensive end Nick Bosa is taking a similar approach and noted that it's possible the Niners could meet the Rams in the NFC Divisional round, so it's important not to deviate from the usual weekly preparation.

"I think as of now most guys are going to play a little bit at least," Bosa said. "Don't know exactly how much but our mindset is to prepare like a normal week. Try and hone in. We could possibly see them again down the road so whatever advantages we can get from this week is important."

Other big-name players such as left tackle Trent Williams, tight end George Kittle and receivers Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk are preparing in a similar way but figure to either not play or only stay in for a portion of Sunday's matchup.

"You work hard to get an off week," Shanahan said. "I think an off week helps a lot of people, especially if you handle it the right way. This time of year, it allows guys to get a little fresher. But what you don't want is two off weeks. No one gets two bye weeks. We earned ours next week, we just didn't know we were going to do it already. So we've got to make sure we get something out of this week."

McCaffrey was ruled out Monday after suffering what he called a "mild" right calf strain in the third quarter of last week's win against the Washington Commanders. McCaffrey said Wednesday he "100%" could have played this week if it was needed, but since the game carries no playoff ramifications, he and the team want to take the safe route.

"I have played through worse," McCaffrey said. "It's just one of those things where right now the situation we're in, precaution is probably better. ... It was more of a cautionary situation and being smart about it rather than doing something stupid."

While the barrage of questions about the Niners' plans for this week can be tiresome, Shanahan clearly preferred answering those versus the alternatives of a must-win game against the Rams in order to clinch the top seed.

"It's stuff that's a little annoying to think about, but once you kind of do ... and I just had to talk to some players so they understand it, then we're good," Shanahan said. "We'll enjoy this week."

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