49ers QB Brock Purdy updates on UCL recovery, recent progress: 'I know it sounds small, but that’s a big win'

San Francisco 49ers quarterback Brock Purdy knew recovery would take time.

Purdy tore the UCL in his throwing arm on Jan. 29, when as a rookie he started in the NFC championship game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Purdy underwent surgery on that elbow on March 10, Texas Rangers head team physician Keith Meister repairing rather than reconstructing Purdy’s ligament in a move likely to expedite Purdy’s recovery timeline. A reconstruction, known as Tommy John surgery and more common among baseball players, would have cast serious doubt on any 2023 availability.

Instead, Meister “conducted an internal brace repair,” the 49ers confirmed.

And while that internal brace remains in Purdy’s elbow, Purdy has progressed enough in recent weeks to warrant the removal of the external brace, he confirmed Friday to Yahoo Sports. A photo tweeted March 26 showed Purdy’s arm held in place with a brace that would not look out of place on a Transformer or bionic man.

Purdy is no longer wearing that brace.

That remains an early step in recovery, Purdy saying Friday he’s “not really sure, honestly” whether he’ll play in 2023 as he takes it “one day at a time.” In recent days, progress has come in the form of increased mobility.

“Just to be able to get out of the brace, move around more frequently and stuff like that — I know it sounds small, but that’s a big win,” Purdy said over Zoom, speaking on behalf of Buffalo Wild Wings. “That’s how I look at it: Finding little things like that to be positive about and understand you have what it takes to get back to being yourself on the field.”

49ers quarterback Brock Purdy had surgery on his elbow on March 10. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)
49ers quarterback Brock Purdy had surgery on his elbow on March 10. (AP Photo/Jed Jacobsohn)

On the field last season, Purdy far exceeded expectations. The Iowa State product went from Mr. Irrelevant — the good-natured nickname that the final draft selection has carried for decades — to undefeated regular-season starter (he went 5-0) after injuries to fellow quarterbacks Trey Lance and Jimmy Garoppolo. Purdy completed 67.1% of passes for 1,374 yards, 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions in the regular season. In slightly more than two postseason games (Purdy tore his UCL in the first quarter of the third game), Purdy completed 65.1% of attempts for 568 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Recovery is his next hurdle, as Purdy is not yet cleared to throw a football. The 49ers announced the day of his surgery that he was “anticipated to start a throwing progression in three months,” which would fall around June 10. For now, Purdy is able to exercise with some types of cardiovascular fitness.

“Conditioning and staying in shape and being thankful to sweat,” Purdy said. “Those are all things you sometimes take for granted when you’re healthy, but those are big things to be proud of.”

Visualization and film study are also key routes to improvement as Purdy awaits physical clearance. He reflects on the strides he made as a rapidly rising rookie, gaining confidence in calling the base plays, formations and motions that constitute head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offensive system. Purdy needed to adjust quickly from shotgun-based snaps in college to working under center as a pro.

“You’re doing 7-step play-action drops, and you have to get your eyes back around the field and see a safety driving a deep over,” Purdy said. “Kyle’s been running this offense forever now. He’s had all these coaches go other places around the NFL, but it’s his offense. So to be able to learn from him and run those kind of concepts at first was difficult.

“Over a while, with all the preparation, it’s finally starting to make sense. And I’m excited to just build off that.”

He appreciated recent endorsements from 49ers brass including general manager John Lynch, who said Purdy “earned the right” to start, or at least defend his starter role once healthy. But until more clarity comes on his return, Purdy emphasizes “there’s a lot of work to be done” across the team and “I don’t want to make it more than what it is.”

He’ll more imminently focus on the little wins in his mobility and strength, in partnership with Meister, physical therapists, athletic trainers and the 49ers coaching staff. He’ll attend the NFL Draft while endorsing Buffalo Wild Wings there. And Purdy will continue to “challenge myself in different areas on film” to ensure he’s ready to reintegrate into practice once cleared.

“We’re all working to get me back as soon as possible but in the right manner,” Purdy said. “I’ve just got to take it one day at a time, get healthy, start throwing again and things like that. And then just go from there. But it’s all going to work out how it needs to.”