Start No. 3 for J.T.

Surprise, surprise. Not really. In fact, it shouldn't be a surprise to anybody that J.T. O'Sullivan will start his third consecutive exhibition game for the 49ers on Thursday at Chicago. The 49ers are finally showing signs of progress as a team in general and an offense in particular, and you can be darn sure Mike Nolan's not going to mess with that headway at this pivotal point in the preseason.

At least, that's what Nolan's reasoning was for sticking with O'Sullivan as the team's starting quarterback, not that he really felt he needed to give anyone a reason for that decision Monday.

During his afternoon media briefing, Nolan quickly cut to the chase when he said, "The quarterback rotation will remain the same for the game." He just as quickly and clearly explained why that would be so.

"I don't want to mess with things right now," Nolan said. "I feel good about the (quarterback) rotation right now and I don't want to mix it up on the short week. We just want to keep going down the same path. We seem to be making progress with our entire offense, so I want to keep that going. It's extremely important to me."

Which makes sense. After a slow start offensively, the 49ers as a collective team have never looked much better than … well … maybe ever during Nolan's tenure for 60 minutes of sustained quality football than they did on Saturday.

Yeah, yeah, it's just an exhibition game, and nobody is losing that perspective. But the 49ers showed some things during their 34-6 rout of the Green Bay Packers. They showed signs of moving pointedly in the right direction. During this summer of sketchy performance so far – on the practice field and in the Aug. 8 preseason opener – that's not to be taken lightly.

Does this about wrap it up for O'Sullivan to be the starter for the team's Sept. 7 regular season opener against Arizona? One would just about think so.

After all, for most NFL teams, the third preseason game usually is a dress rehearsal for the regular-season opener, and the 49ers shouldn't be any different, though Nolan indicated the team may play it a little out of the ordinary for the preseason finale Aug. 29 against San Diego, a game when most teams only send out their starters for a token appearance – if at all.

As has been his custom over the past two weeks, Nolan would not discuss the quarterback situation beyond Thursday's game. But it's becoming more obvious, even in Nolan's public persona, that O'Sullivan will remain as the starter into the regular season. The team is giving every indication that is so during its daily preparation.

And, as Nolan indicated, the team's fine offensive performance against the Packers – 355 total yards, including 233 in the first half – was sparked by two second-quarter touchdown drives directed by O'Sullivan, who threw for 154 yards in the first half.

"He certainly has given me no reason to take him out right now," Nolan said. "We're staying consistent with our plan. I do feel confident we've got three (quarterbacks) who can win games. Two of them I know can because I've played with them in the past, and I'll continue to take a look at J.T., too."

With training camp scheduled to break after Thursday's game – in reality, the 49ers already are in one-practice-a-day regular-season mode – here's a look at where the three quarterbacks stand after Saturday's game:


J.T. O'SULLIVAN

Saturday's statistics vs. Packers:
8 of 17 passing for 154 yards, 59-yard touchdown pass to Josh Morgan, one interception, no sacks, 74.1 quarterback rating, two carries for 11 yards rushing.
Preseason to date: 13 of 25 passing for 225 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions, no sacks, 62.9 quarterback rating, four carries for 18 yards rushing, one lost fumble.
Saturday's analysis: Looked shaky at start and first few passes were off the mark. Struggled to get in groove, completing just three of his first 10 passes. Made bad read and horrible throw on interception by Charles Woodson deep in San Francisco territory that had a better chance to be caught by two Green Bay defenders than intended receiver Vernon Davis. Moved well in pocket and showed great escapability with backward spin move to evade pressure and get to open side of field. Didn't always step into passes, which affected velocity on his throws. Seemed to gain comfort and rhythm as game progressed. Displayed command of offense while completing three consecutive third-down passes to keep 15-play, 87-yard touchdown drive alive. Continued to throw to spots well. Final two series represented his best football so far as a 49er, and made nice throw on 59-yard scoring pass to Josh Morgan, though he could have got the ball there a bit quicker.
Summer analysis to date: Continues to play within the offense and does the things coaches ask him to do. Has taken considerable strides to make the starting job his and does not appear out of place in it. Looks like a better quarterback now with all the work he has been getting than he did two weeks ago when he started getting regular repetitions. Has good mobility and seems to possess some improvisational skills. Lacks arm strength and ability to throw deep ball still is in question. Puts good spin on ball and throws an easy ball for receiving targets to catch. Seems to flip his passes rather than throw them with a follow-through delivery. Needs to get the ball out quicker on occasion. Still misreads defenses, but is coming along very well in this area. Clearly knows the offense better than the other quarterbacks in camp. Knows where to go with the football with very little hesitation. Three turnovers in 10 series of preseason action is a concern. Five other series ended with punts and the other two ended with touchdowns.
Projected Sept. 7 role: Starter


ALEX SMITH

Saturday's statistics vs. Packers:
5 of 12 passing for 62 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks, 58.3 quarterback rating.
Preseason to date: 10 of 21 for 113 yards passing, no touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks, 64.2 quarterback rating.
Saturday's analysis: Appeared to have a much better grasp of offense than in preseason opener. Took good drops, stood strong in pocket and set up quickly. Continued to have considerable issues with accuracy. Fires the ball sharply with good velocity but makes receivers reach for his throws. Significantly underthrew receiver Josh Morgan on a deep pattern down the left sideline after Morgan had gotten behind a defender. Got ball out well but it did not carry down the field and Morgan was forced to stop his pattern. Was high on third-quarter pass to a wide-open Jason Hill in back of end zone on what would have been a touchdown, but ball was within Hill's reach and he should have went up and got it. Didn't have much touch on his throws. Guided team to one touchdown in three third-quarter possessions.
Summer analysis to date: Clearly the most athletic of San Francisco's quarterbacks and has the best velocity on his throws. Still looks like a developing player with lots of potential and upside. Has had major problems picking up the Mike Martz offense and executing smoothly within the system. Is slow to react in offense that relies on quick decisions and precision. Throwing shoulder appears fully recovered after offseason surgery, but accuracy with throws remains a significant issue. Can unload pretty passes that find their mark, but is inconsistent and can flutter an off-target pass on his next throw. Sometimes shows strong presence and good command, sometimes doesn't. Might be a lot better after he has some time to develop in the system. Learning a fourth offense in four years has not been conducive to his development.
Projected Sept. 7 role: Backup


SHAUN HILL

Saturday's statistics vs. Packers:
2 for 5 passing for 21 yards, no touchdowns, no interceptions, no sacks, 52.9 quarterback rating, one kneel-down at end of game for minus-1 yards.
Preseason to date: 12 of 25 passing for 104 yards, no touchdowns, one interception, one sack for minus-6 yards, 42.8 quarterback rating.
Saturday's analysis: Entered in fourth quarter with San Francisco leading 24-6 and promptly made nice throw on the move to complete 16-yard sideline route to Dominique Zeigler on third-and-12 to keep scoring drive moving. Next three passes were incomplete as 49ers settled for a field goal. Did not look in sync with receivers and was not smooth in the pocket. Only other pass was a five-yard completion to halfback Thomas Clayton on third-and-8 play to end his second series. Did not see any other action until final-play kneel-down at end of game – San Francisco's only offensive play in final 5:36 of game due to Allen Rossum's 67-yard punt return for a touchdown between Green Bay's final two possessions. Never had much opportunity to get in flow of game.
Summer analysis to date: Has struggled with the new system and has been inconsistent in practices. Arm strength is a definite issue. Was rested 10 days into camp for several sessions because of tired shoulder, and has yet to practice with first unit since. Is not known as a strong practice player, and that definitely has characterized his summer. Is an efficient passer but has looked good in practice only on occasions. Has become a forgotten man in the quarterback competition over the past week. Has not shown a lot of progress since training camp began. Seems to perform better with better players around him. Has not really been given a legitimate opportunity to seize the position since O'Sullivan began working with the first unit early in August.
Projected Sept. 7 role: Emergency No. 3 backup



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