As the QBs turn: Weinke in, Smith goes on IR

Desperate times call for desperate measures. And with Alex Smith on injured reserve and Trent Dilfer out with a concussion, these are desperate times at quarterback for the 49ers. So the team went out and signed a 35-year-old veteran who hasn't played in the NFL since last season to serve as a backup to new starter Shaun Hill for Saturday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

As Smith shuffled out of the building Wednesday on his way to Alabama for a date with shoulder surgery, veteran Chris Weinke shuffled into 49ers headquarters to take Smith's place on the roster and also on the team's depth chart at quarterback.

But there will be no easing into his new position with his new team: After his debut practice as a 49er, coach Mike Nolan immediately named Weinke as San Francisco's No. 2 QB behind Hill, who will making his first NFL start Saturday.

That might be a lot to ask of an aging quarterback who hasn't been in the NFL since being released last spring by the Carolina Panthers, but Weinke already was diving into the role during his first day with the team.

"It's a crash course that I'm going to have to just study the next three days and be able to (execute) if called upon," Weinke said. "I'm excited to be here and I'm trying to learn as much as I can about the offense. It was good to get back out there and get a practice under my belt."

Weinke has 19 NFL starts under his belt, including 15 with the Panthers as a rookie in 2001. He spent the past six seasons with the Panthers but did not play a snap in either 2003 or 2004 before starting three games last year when Jake Delhomme was injured.

With Smith placed on the injured reserve list Wednesday in advance of his season-ending shoulder surgery, and Dilfer ruled out for Saturday's game due to the concussion he suffered last week against Minnesota, Nolan opted to make Weinke the team's No. 2 quarterback rather than elevate inexperienced Drew Olson from the practice squad.

"He's got that experience in a game," Nolan said. "That's real important right now. Especially if you get to the point of using a second and third quarterback, you want to have some experience."

Weinke, the Heisman Trophy winner at Florida State in 2000, entered the NFL as a 28-year-old rookie after playing six seasons of minor league baseball in the Toronto Blue Jays organization. It was there Weinke became acquainted with 49ers vice president of player personnel Scot McCloughan, who also was a Toronto farmhand at the time.

Weinke finished second in NFL history among rookie quarterbacks with 2,931 yards passing for Carolina in 2001, but spent the last five years as a seldom-used backup. He had tryouts earlier this year with Buffalo and Minnesota, but had just returned to his home in Charlotte, N.C, from a trip to New York with his wife over the weekend for the annual Heisman Trophy presentation when the 49ers came calling Monday night.

"At this time of year, it's always a little bit of a surprise," Weinke said. "But my mindset has been that I'm not finished yet. I still think I have something to offer a football team and I look forward to becoming a part of this team. Any time you've played the game as long as I have and have been away from it, it gets the juices flowing again when you get that opportunity."

Hill still is dealing with swelling in the index finger on his throwing hand that was fractured and dislocated a month ago. So Weinke, who was home on his couch across the continent earlier this week, will have to be prepared on short notice.

"Obviously, I don't want to see anything happen to Shaun," Weinke said. "I also have to understand that I need to be prepared. In this league, if you're the No. 2, you're always one play away. I'll keep that mindset and continue to study throughout the next few days. If my number is called, I'll try to operate the offense to the best of my ability."

Smith won't be operating anything to do with throwing a football for a while. He is scheduled to undergo surgery to reattach ligaments in his throwing shoulder Thursday in Alabama, where noted orthopedic specialist Dr. James Andrews will perform the procedure.

Smith then faces a three-month recovery period but should be at full strength to practice with the team again for its spring minicamps.


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