How Purdy played key role in shaping 49ers' dominant defense


Another season, another dominant 49ers defense.

But this year might be the unit's best yet, as it sits atop nearly every defensive category in the NFL while San Francisco rides a five-game winning streak.

The team will look to continue that success Sunday as they welcome the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to Levi's Stadium with rookie quarterback Brock Purdy under center, who, it turns out, played a key role in shaping the 49ers' dominant defense before taking over for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo in Week 13.

"Brock, he's been great at giving us looks all year. I think he's part of the reason our guys have played really well, because he is challenging," 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans said Thursday of San Francisco's former scout-team quarterback. "He's not just out there just throwing picks to our guys. He's trying to actually fit the ball in and challenging our guys to really break on the ball and make plays.

"Brock has done that all year. He's not just out there just making it easy on the defense. I'm happy where we are defensively, because of Brock. He's helped us out all year."

Long before Purdy became starter because of injuries to both Garoppolo and second-year pro Trey Lance, "Mr. Irrelevant" was known for taking his job as the 49ers' scout team signal-caller very seriously. He prepared for each week as if he were starting, which is how the 22-year-old was able to fit seamlessly into the 49ers' offense against the Miami Dolphins and help San Francisco earn a 33-17 win.

"I think Brock, he's the same every day. He brings it," Ryans said. "He's a competitor every day. That's the cool part about Brock -- he's always competing, whether it is scout team or what he's doing now. He's a true competitor, and he always wants to win.

"He's always looking to win the rep, and I think that's what you saw from him Sunday."

That demeanor in practice kept the 49ers' defense on its toes throughout the first three months of the 2022 NFL season, Ryans noted, with teammates such as veteran safety Jimmie Ward even applauding the rookie for the way he approaches each practice rep.

"He feels the rush in the pocket. He's able to escape," Ryans said. "One thing I liked about Brock is he's athletic, he can move out of the pocket and still try to create on the run. And we played a lot of moving, athletic quarterbacks this year, and Brock did a really good job of giving us some looks of extending plays and creating, throwing the ball downfield, throwing no-look passes when we needed him to.

"Like he's done everything we've asked him to do. He's a true team player."

As Purdy takes over the 49ers' starting QB job, he'll now rely on that same defense he used to challenge in practice to have his back. His mission is simple: Get the ball to one of San Francisco's countless playmakers and control what he can, while the defense handles its business on the other side of things.

"He just has to go out and play his game," Ryans said. "And our guys just continue to do what they're doing defensively, and everybody around him, collectively, doing their job, playing their best.

"I think we'll be fine."

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As the 49ers look to clinch a playoff spot, they'll need to put their best foot forward week in and week out over the next five games. And with a clearly diligent -- and talented -- Purdy now at the helm, their odds might just be as good as they have been all season.

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