Six years into his eight-year NFL career, Shaun Hill had almost never taken a snap in an NFL game. But two years later Hill has put himself in position to see plenty of game action after he was named the 49ers starting quarterback for the 2009 season.
Head coach Mike Singletary made the announcement prior to the team's Monday practice.
"We have decided that Shaun Hill will be the quarterback," he declared.
"I just felt that right now would be the best time, not only for the quarterbacks but it was the best time for the team," Singletary added.
Singletary said the choice needed to be made so that the players could get a better feel for "who's going to be back there, who's going to be leading this offense and who can we rally around right now."
He stated Hill's leadership and command in the huddle as two of the factors that allowed him to pick Hill over Alex Smith.
"We're fortunate to have both of them. They've both made great strides," Singletary said of his quarterbacks. "I've very excited about where Shaun stopped off last year and from how he ended the season and how he's progressed through the offseason. Alex [did a nice job] coming back from working through all the stuff that he's had to work through, putting it behind him and being ready to compete. I'm very excited about both of them. "
Hill and Smith learned of the news in separate one-on-one meetings with Singletary the night before. The entire team didn't learn the outcome of the competition until the conclusion of practice.
"This was obviously the goal of mine coming into the offseason," Hill said. "That part was exciting, but I know that there is a lot of work to be done. I need to get better and this offense needs to get better. I definitely can't stop and smell the roses."
Hill immediately got to work running the first-team offense in a spirited two-minute drive simulation against the 49ers defense, which included the return of two starters. Pro Bowl linebacker Joe Staley (ankle) and outside 'backer Parys Haralson (foot) both returned to 11-on-11 work from minor injuries they suffered early in camp.
Hill's best pass of the practice session took place in the red zone when he hit a streaking Vernon Davis down the right hashmarks for an impressive touchdown.
But now that he's taking all the first-team reps, Hill doesn't see his practice mentality changing one bit. The only difference with Hill being the starter is his comfort level in voicing his opinions.
"I approach practice the same way. The thing that is a little bit different is that if there are things that need to be tweaked or changed to make me feel more comfortable, I can express those things now," he said.
Now that their roles have been defined for the upcoming season, both Hill and Smith will continue to be very close friends. Hill noted that Smith "was very helpful" on the practice field on Monday.
Although Smith didn't participate in practice as he's listed as day-to-day with a sprained right thumb, he immediately began processing his new role and acted accordingly.
"When you're the backup, your responsibility is obviously to be ready to go because you're one step away," Smith explained. "With that as well as to help him get ready in any facet that I can."
Smith said the decision wouldn't impede the progress he's made since missing most of the last two seasons with shoulder injuries. But he wasn't willing to concede that Monday's decision would benefit him in the long run.
"I don't know if I think necessarily like that," Smith said. "I definitely take the perspective [of being] one snap away. How many quarterbacks played all year? I hope nothing but the best for Shaun in his health and everything, but you have to be ready to go. It's my job now to be ready to go. I'm taking the mindset that my progress, my development doesn't stop because I'm not getting reps with the ones. It can't stop."