Smith Injury Puts 49ers' QB Spot in Limbo

The 49ers are put in the difficult position of trying to figure out their quarterback of the future without the most likely candidate able to play in this season's stretch run. For now, anyway, it's Trent Dilfer facing the Vikings this weekend.

Quarterback Alex Smith might be out of sight, but he's not completely out of 49ers coach Mike Nolan's mind.

Veteran Trent Dilfer will make his sixth start of the season Sunday when the 49ers face the Minnesota Vikings. Smith was cleared to begin light throwing as part of his rehabilitation from shoulder and forearm problems. It does not appear likely Smith will play again this season.

As for the future, Nolan said if Smith can get healthy, he still is seen as the team's quarterback of the future.

"It's really difficult to commit to anything past today when you really don't know what it (the injury situation) is," Nolan said. "If everyone is healthy and everyone is playing well, he's the guy. But that's not the way it is today.

"If everyone's at the top of their game? Shoot, yeah, we drafted him (Smith) to be the guy."

Smith has not been healthy since he sustained a separated throwing shoulder Sept. 30 against the Seattle Seahawks. He tried unsuccessfully to play three games, but was clearly not healthy. The 49ers have a 7-5 record in the 12 games before Smith's injury.

The club is just 1-8 in games this season with Dilfer at quarterback. Neither quarterback has been impressive this season. Dilfer is 33rd in the NFL with a passer rating of 58.4, ranking ahead of only Smith (57.2) among qualifying quarterbacks.

Nolan has been supportive of Dilfer, who has mostly struggled since being pushed into the starting lineup. Those close to Smith are disappointed with how Nolan handled Smith's injury, as well as some of his comments since. Nolan has said that Dilfer had two starts in a row that were better than any performance Smith had during his 30 career starts.

"When I say Trent gives us our best chance to win, it's because right now as a healthy quarterback, without question he gives us our best chance to win," Nolan said. "When Alex was not healthy, he did not. So it's not a knock on anybody."


  • LB Derek Smith was limited in practice Thursday but is expected to make the start Sunday against the Vikings. Smith ranks fourth on the team with 87 tackles this season.

  • RB Frank Gore appears to be nearly 100 percent after sustaining a right ankle sprain Oct. 21 against the New York Giants. Gore is still taking part in limited practice during the week, but he will he is expected to start Sunday against the Vikings' No. 1 rush defense. Gore is the 18th-leading rusher in the league and has raised his average to 4.2 yards a carry.

  • WR Arnaz Battle, the 49ers' leading receiver, returned to limited practice on Thursday after missing a day with a right ankle sprain. Battle has caught four TD passes this season, including scores in back-to-back games. He leads the 49ers with 43 catches for 545 yards.

  • CB Shawntae Spencer, who enters in nickel situations, is expected to miss his second straight game with a quad strain.

  • RB Michael Robinson has seen limited duty since getting a lot of action Nov. 4 when Frank Gore was out of the lineup against the Falcons. For the season, Robinson has just 25 rushes for 120 yards. He leads the 49ers with 22 tackles on special teams.

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