Sam Darnold

Why Darnold felt in ‘really good spot' of winning 49ers' backup QB job

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SANTA CLARA — Sam Darnold won the job as the 49ers’ No. 2 quarterback.

Darnold noticed Trey Lance was not on the field Wednesday at the start of practice. And shortly thereafter, 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan told Darnold the news he had already delivered to Lance.

Officially, Darnold beat out Lance for the backup job, and Lance suddenly became expendable to the organization.

“I knew it,” Shanahan said of the timing of his decision to go with Darnold over Lance. “I think a lot of guys knew it. I think he (Lance) had an idea.

“I’m in meetings with him every day and stuff. I'm on the field with him every day. I could get a sense that he was starting to feel that we felt that way. It was the truth and I don't want to B.S. him.”

Lance was crushed by the reality that he was two spots down the depth chart from where he began last season.

He did not want his teammates to see him in his emotional state, Shanahan said, so both men agreed it would be best for Lance to stay away from practice while the 49ers began trade talks.

Meanwhile, Darnold said he tried not to think too far ahead or anticipate the result of the competition to serve as the backup to starter Brock Purdy.

“We were doing everything that we could to earn that job,” Darnold said Friday night after the 49ers’ preseason finale against the Los Angeles Chargers at Levi’s Stadium.

“I think, for me, as a competitor, you're expected to want to win that job. For me, it was just going out there and playing really good football every single day. I knew that at the end of the day, if I did that, I could be in a really good spot to earn that job.”

Lance returned to the team on Thursday and Friday.

But just hours before the 49ers took the field against the Chargers, the trade was completed that sent Lance to the Dallas Cowboys for a fourth-round draft pick.

“We had a couple days to just be able to be in the quarterback meetings and stuff and talk about it,” Darnold said. “He's a great dude, really good player. He's going to go somewhere and go to Dallas and take advantage of the opportunities that he gets.”

And that is what Darnold is attempting with the 49ers.

Darnold broke into the NFL in 2018 as the No. 3 overall pick of the New York Jets. He knows what it’s like to carry the hopes of a franchise. He knows what it’s like to have a team give up on him.

Now, he is in a unique position with the 49ers.

He is not the starter, but he is one snap from taking the field for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.

The Jets were a mess. His team of the past two seasons, the Carolina Panthers, were not a whole lot better.

Darnold signed a one-year, $4.5 million contract in March to come to the quarterback-friendly 49ers. He seems to believe the situation is ideal for him to thrive — if he’s ever needed.

“I’m not going to compare it to any other systems I've been in,” he said. “I just love how everything is very concise and clear. It’s knowing this is where we're going with the football and this coverage and that coverage.”

Shanahan said Darnold separated himself from Lance over the past 10 days to two weeks as he continually showed a better grasp of the system.

“I feel like I've been doing a good job of making the right decisions,” he said. “There will be certain plays where you'd like to have it back, but usually I can tell right after the play.”

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