Hill gets nod at QB for season opener
August 25, 2009
SAN FRANCISCO – Shaun Hill has gone from undrafted rookie free agent to starting quarterback in his eight-year NFL journey.
Hill’s late-season success last year for the San Francisco 49ers told coach Mike Singletary plenty about his potential to start in this league, and Singletary on Monday gave Hill the nod as the Niners starting quarterback over Alex Smith.
“I like the consistency,” Singletary said of Hill. “I think he has a commanding presence about him when he gets in the huddle. I think the guys have learned to rally around him and his leadership.”
Singletary made the public announcement before Monday afternoon’s practice at the team’s Santa Clara headquarters after talking to both QBs separately on Sunday and again together Monday morning.
Hill had no idea when he and Smith would find out who had earned the job – and insisted he had to keep that far from his mind and focus on the task at hand.
“This was obviously the goal of mine coming into the offseason. That part was exciting,” Hill said. “I know there is a lot of work yet to be done. I need to get better and this offense needs to get better. I definitely can’t stop and smell the roses.”
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Singletary had been hesitant to say who was leading the competition and each QB earned one exhibition start. Neither did much to distinguish himself in those outings according to Singletary, who hadn’t planned to name his starter until after Saturday’s preseason game at Dallas.
But he decided it was better for everybody – Hill and Smith themselves, the receivers and offensive line – to move ahead with one starter now in preparation for the regular season.
Singletary reiterated Monday “there was never a huge gap at any particular time,” but that Hill’s intangibles separated him.
The coach was impressed with the class of both quarterbacks through the process and when he talked to them.
“Just had them understand why we made the decision and how important it is that they continue to push each other and compete,” Singletary said. “I feel very fortunate to have both of them. They both made great strides.”
This wasn’t a big surprise considering how Hill finished last season. He’s also never lost at home as a starter at Candlestick Park in five games the past two years.
He went 5-3 over the Niners’ final eight games last season and was 2-0 as a fill-in starter in 2007. He has shown he can lead the team and, ultimately, win.
Hill’s success down the stretch also helped Singletary shed the interim tag from his title heading into 2009 after he took over in late October for the fired Mike Nolan.
Hill showed up at training camp saying he believed he would win the job – and Singletary had repeatedly said he expected Smith would have to take the job from Hill. Singletary, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye and quarterbacks coach Mike Johnson came to the decision together.
“It’s just a matter of Shaun having a presence in the huddle, leading us through the end of last season and really having the confidence coming into this, probably feeling in his mind that he was the guy all along,” Singletary said. “Alex Smith, on the other side, having to prove that he can get through all of the stuff to get to a point of competing. I’m very proud of what he’s had to overcome.”
The 29-year-old Hill, undrafted out of Maryland and entering his eighth NFL season, began his career with Minnesota before signing with the Niners as an unrestricted free agent in June 2006. He has never started a season opener and has only 10 career starts.
“It has been quite a ride,” Hill said. “I almost made it through my whole sixth season without taking a snap in the league. And now here I am with the opportunity to start for one of the most storied franchises in the NFL, a franchise that has had great quarterbacks throughout its history. I am very honored to have this opportunity. I’m very honored to have this opportunity with the 49ers.”
Smith missed all of the 2008 season after reinjuring his surgically repaired throwing shoulder. He has shown plenty of positive signs during training camp that he’s back and ready to help the team.
“It’s nothing you ever like to hear,” Smith said. “Hopefully nothing you ever get used to hearing. It’s not fun, but at the same time, it doesn’t change anything for me. My mindset can’t change.”
The 49ers open the season at Arizona on Sept. 13.