For starters, it's Hill at QB

Mike Singletary says not to read anything into it, but go ahead and read something into it. Shaun Hill will start at quarterback for the 49ers in Friday's exhibition season opener against the Denver Broncos, which is as it should be and clearly establishes the team's pecking order at the position, even if nobody wants to admit it.

In a decision that was expected but delayed until Thursday, Singletary announced that Hill indeed will be the first quarterback on the field when the Niners unveil their 2009 product against the Broncos at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

Singletary says he doesn't want the move to be construed as any kind of indication that Hill is winning the competition at quarterback with Alex Smith, even though Hill is.

Hill, as it stands today at this moment, is San Francisco's best quarterback. He should be the team's starter. And that is why he is.

Singletary, as is his purpose as the team's head coach, made sure to throw in a few disclaimers as he announced the decision. He wants everybody to know there still is a quarterback competition going on and that the team still hasn't decided who will be its starter for the crucial Sept. 13 regular-season opener against Arizona.

"Really, it could have been Hill or Alex Smith we chose," Singletary said. "Do not know who will start next week, so don't ready anything into it."

But we can read something into what has happened during the first 13 days of training camp, a span during which Hill has done nothing to lose his grip on the starting position he held through the final eight games of last season, when he produced a 5-3 record.

Hill, 29, has continued to mature as a quarterback, and now he has shown the consistency in practice that wasn't there before during his first two seasons with the 49ers as a third-string backup.

He's not exactly setting the world on fire, either, but that is not Hill's practice style. He's a gamer whose level of play always rises when the competition counts. But the 49ers have to be pleased that Hill has shown a consistent quality as the lead guy in their summer sessions.

Or maybe Hill is the clear frontrunner because Smith just hasn't done anything to change that status. To be sure, Smith looks like an improved quarterback, but he is still not exhibiting the consistent quality you want to see in your starting QB.

Smith has the better arm, no doubt about that, and some of his razor-sharp flings can be a thing of beauty. That is, when they get to the receiver. Smith still sprays the ball all over the field too often, either missing his intended target or finding a defender instead. He still thinks too much out there, holding the ball too long and pulling it down instead of pulling the trigger.

But it's still just training camp, after all, and the guy is showing potential. He clearly appears to have put behind him the shoulder problems that marred his past two seasons and is shaking off the rust. That's why Singletary continues to say the QB race still is on.

And, it's not exactly like Hill has been so good this summer to say the race already has been won.

"Obviously you want to have a quarterback," Singletary said. "If we were really pleased, we'd have one. We'd say, ‘That's the guy. He jumps out.' But I am pleased with the progression that they're making. They're continuing to make progress, all the little things that they need to be doing. So I'm pleased about that, and will be really excited when the time comes to announce who that guy is."

As far as the assumption that Hill is in the lead, Singletary said, "It's fair to say that right now, kind of like I've been saying, I don't care about today. What I care about is at the end of it. And one can go a little bit ahead and a little bit behind. In all fairness to them, that's the only thing I want to comment on, is when we know what it is. But in terms of who it is, who's ahead, who's not, it really doesn't matter right now for us."

Hill, never one to get caught up in emotion or hype, is taking a similar approach with a similar perspective.

"Obviously, I'm just excited to get out there and play again," Hill said. "I agree there's no reason to read into this in any way. Obviously, starting the preseason game isn't the final goal. It's to start every regular-season game and go from there. I'm just excited for the opportunity to get out and play again."

From this vantage point, Hill is ahead. If Smith is to catch up and overtake Hill before the season opener, it will have to happen in the team's four preseason games – most likely the first three games – by Smith showing that he can rise to the occasion in the heat of action and let his superior physical ability take over and make things happen.

But playing quarterback in the NFL is about so much more than physical ability, and that's where Hill has the clear edge. And that's why he's the 49ers' starting quarterback today. And that's why the job should be his to lose the remainder of the summer.

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