Nolan says Hill will get shot at No. 1 QB job

After another strong performance by Shaun Hill led the 49ers to a 21-19 upset over Tampa Bay on Sunday, coach Mike Nolan said that Hill has earned the right to compete for the starting position at quarterback in 2008.

"No question," Nolan said after Hill threw three touchdown passes to spark the 49ers to their second consecutive victory while improving to 2-0 as a starter. "I mean, your performance dictates that."

And Hill's performance, once again, was clutch.

He didn't have the sparkling numbers of his first two outings with the 49ers – when he completed 78 percent of his passes to enter Sunday's game with a passer rating of 107.4 – but Hill made the plays when it counted against the NFL's third-ranked defense.

He finished 11 of 24 for a 123 yards passing, the three touchdowns and a game passer rating of 83.9. But those numbers didn't reflect Hill's toughness – he came back after being knocked out for one play to throw what proved to be the game-winning touchdown pass on his first play back in the game – or the fine pocket presence he exhibited for a third consecutive week.

Nolan said after the game that he considered going to Hill earlier in the year after starter Alex Smith was pulled for good due to his shoulder problems after the Nov. 12 Seattle game.

But Hill broke the index finger on his throwing hand in the week following that game, which put him on the shelf for a month as backup Trent Dilfer took Smith's place. Dilfer led the 49ers to one win in their next four games before being knocked out with a concussion in the Dec. 9 loss to Minnesota, a game in which Hill threw his first pass in a regular-season NFL game.

Given an opportunity when Dilfer went down, Hill has flourished to the point that Nolan said he'll receive an opportunity to compete with Smith for the No. 1 role next season.

"Competition makes football teams better, I don't care what position it is," Nolan said. "That's what it's all about. You want depth and you want competition. The best teams I've been with have had competition at a lot of positions, some more clear-cut than others, but competition. To be a good football team, you need that competition.

"And, obviously, with Shaun playing as well as he has, if he continues to play that way, there's no question (he'll be given a chance to compete for a starting role)."

Like everybody else, Nolan has been impressed with Hill's surprising success since he took over behind center to begin the third quarter in the Minnesota game. And, Nolan said, Sunday's game was even more impressive because of some adversity Hill encountered while facing one of the league's best defenses.

Hill remained the same player making the same kind of plays and the same kind of sound decisions, and that, Nolan said, is the key to a good football player.

"It's important that you're the same guy every day," Nolan said. "That's just not the same personality, but also the same player, that you're the same. Shaun today faced a little bit of adversity that he has not in the six quarters that he played prior to this. He has been consistently the same guy and that's a real key for any player.

"If you have the ability to make plays, you want to make them week in and week out. That's when you get noted to be the player that you are, is when you consistently play well. Now he's got 10 quarters where he's played pretty good football, and he's been a key to our victories the last two weeks, no question."

And that could mean open competition at quarterback for the 49ers next year, which can only make the team better, and also could be a good thing for Smith, who has basically had the starting position handed to him since he arrived in 2005 as the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft.

When told that there is growing support in the San Francisco locker room for him to be the No. 1 quarterback, Hill said, "I would say that's great. That's what you really want, that your teammates respect you in that way. I would love to do it, and I would love to play with those guys."

But Hill – who took only two snaps, both end-of-the-game kneel-downs, in his first five NFL seasons – isn't about to get ahead of himself.

When asked if he felt he has earned the right to compete for the starting role next year, Hill said he isn't even looking beyond next week's season finale against the Browns in Cleveland.

"All I know is we have another opponent this week," Hill said. "I'll start worrying about next season next season. I'm not even thinking about it. I'm just trying to earn the right to play next week."

Hill, obviously, is earning much more than that.


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