The 49ers' top two choices, Alex Smith and Trent Dilfer, appear as if they will be unavailable due to injuries. That leaves Shaun Hill as the likely starter for Saturday's game.
Hill is a six-year veteran. Prior to his relief performance on Sunday in the 49ers' 27-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Hill had never attempted a pass in an NFL regular-season game. Now, it looks as if he will be thrust into the starting lineup.
"That's what every NFL player wants," Hill said. "Everybody wants to be the starter. Every backup wants to be the starter, every third-stringer wants to move up to second string and then on up to be the starter. That's what we're all here to play for. We love to play and I'm no different. It's been a long time and I would be very excited about that opportunity."
However, Hill isn't exactly at full strength, either.
Last month, Hill sustained a broken and dislocated index finger on his throwing hand during practice. He still has to have the finger taped up for stability. The knuckle on that finger is purple and is swollen twice the size of normal.
It did not seem to hamper Hill too much in his most extensive NFL playing time. Hill completed 22 of 28 passes for 180 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Hill entered the game in the second half after Dilfer sustained a concussion on a big hit from Vikings cornerback Charles Gordon.
Dilfer required help to get off the field and was taken to a local hospital for observation. Dilfer's status for the game against the Bengals is up in the air.
Also, Smith is not expected to return from shoulder and forearm injuries. He sustained a separated right shoulder Sept. 30, and has not been healthy since. He played ineffectively for three games before it was decided he needed more rest. Smith said surgery on his throwing shoulder remains a possibility.
Hill is the only healthy quarterback on the team. The club could promote Drew Olson from the practice squad for Saturday's game. The 49ers have also used backup running back Michael Robinson as an emergency quarterback. Robinson was the Big 10 offensive Player of the Year his senior season at Penn State at quarterback before the 49ers drafted him and converted him to running back.
If Hill does start, he seems to have the confidence of his teammates.
"Once Trent went down, Shaun got into the huddle and stepped up and was confident," said 49ers tight end Delanie Walker, who caught six passes for 65 yards. "He made all the checkdowns and the right reads. He put the ball out in front of us, where we could catch it in stride and run with it."