Quarterback carousel spinning again for 49ers

It's feast or famine for the 49ers at quarterback. Last year, Alex Smith became the first QB in the team's 62-year history to take every offensive snap in a season. Now, after third-stringer-turned-starter Shaun Hill sat out practice Wednesday with an assortment of injuries, San Francisco could have its fourth different 2007 starter at the position for Sunday's season finale at Cleveland.

Hill said he expects to play against the Browns, even though he has bruised ribs underneath his throwing shoulder and has experienced back spasms since being stuck from behind late in the second quarter of last week's victory over Tampa Bay.

And, oh yeah, there's still that index finger on his throwing hand that was in a splint Wednesday after Hill broke it during practice last month. Hill's finger has remained swollen and discolored while he has played through that injury since taking over as San Francisco's quarterback at halftime of the team's Dec. 9 loss to Minnesota.

But in light of his latest ailments, both of which occurred when he took shots against the Buccaneers, Hill said, "All of a sudden, the finger feels great."

Hill also downplayed the shot he took to his ribs in the third quarter, when rookie defensive end Gaines Adams speared him after he released a pass. Hill was on the ground for a few minutes before walking off the field gingerly. He missed one play, then returned to throw the go-ahead touchdown pass on his first play back in the game – one of three touchdown passes Hill threw during San Francisco's 21-19 victory.

X-rays taken after the game revealed no broken ribs, but Hill's back was the problem when he awakened Monday morning.

"The ribs are sore, but they're not hurt or anything," Hill said. "That's not a factor. I've got some back spasms going on, things like that we're trying to treat right now, and hopefully by the end of the week we have all that under control so we can go out there and play. Right now, we're treating it and doing what we can to get it to settle down. Every day we'll re-evaluate it and see where it's at."

Coach Mike Nolan said Hill was questionable to play against Cleveland as of Wednesday.

"Right now, we're just taking it a day at a time," Nolan said. "We rested him today. I'm hopeful that he'll play on Sunday, and right now rest is important in order for him to do that. With a few days rest, hopefully he can get back on the field. There's a lot of other guys that do the same thing. Some guys get a little more sore than others. He took some hits in the game."

Veteran Chris Weinke, who was signed on Dec. 12, took the practice reps with the first team on Wednesday and would start against the Browns if Hill is unable to go. Trent Dilfer, who suffered a concussion against Minnesota, has been ruled out and won't play against this season.

Practice-squadder Drew Olson also got some extra work in practice, but the team has not elevated him to the 53-man roster.

"By the end of the week, (if) we need depth, that would be a possibility," Nolan said. "(Olson)'s doing some things in practice. It depends on how the week goes. (We'll) see how Shaun comes out of it. We've got Weinke, Olson and a couple other players on our team that can play (quarterback)."

Nolan knows all about the quarterback carousel. Though he was spoiled by Smith's durability last season, Nolan started four different quarterbacks during his first season with the 49ers in 2005. Tim Rattay was the starter to begin that season, Smith took over in October (and Rattay was subsequently traded to Tampa Bay), then Ken Dorsey became the starter when Smith was injured, then Cody Pickett took over after Dorsey was injured before Smith returned to finish the season.

After waiting 5¾ seasons to finally get his shot behind center, Hill isn't about to let his opportunity slip away because of some nagging injuries. He made it sound like the rest was just a method to assure that he'll be ready to play Sunday.

And, besides, Hill already has shown that he's good to go without practice. Before being thrown into the Minnesota game – when he through a regular-season pass for the first time in his career – Hill hadn't taken any practice reps for more than three weeks because of his injured finger. He then went in and completed 22 of 27 passes in the second half against the Vikings.

For the season, Hill is 54 of 79 (68.4 percent) for 501 yards and five touchdowns with a passer rating of 101.3. After injuring his back last week, Hill came back to throw two touchdown passes in the second half to spark the comeback against Tampa Bay and improve to 2-0 as a NFL starter.

"The whole second half was pretty uncomfortable," Hill said. "But as long as I've waited to play, I certainly want to take advantage of every opportunity to play. I've done that before (playing without practice reps during week). That's part of life as a backup quarterback anyway, not getting the reps in practice and then going out and playing. I'll definitely get the mental reps."


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