Mike Nolan just made the announcement during a conference call. Nolan said he met with all three quarterbacks about an hour ago and explained them the situation. O'Sullivan is the starter and he is backing him "100 percent." Alex Smith is the No. 2 quarterback and Shaun Hill is third. Said Nolan of O'Sullivan: "He had better command among the three. He played with consistency, and we've played well as a unit."
Nolan said that Smith and Hill took the news well. Asked if this meant that Smith, the top overall pick in the 2005 draft, was a bust, Nolan disagreed. "The perception will be wrong if that is the perception." He said that Smith is continuing to improve and that Nolan, who selected Smith, still feels he will be a good quarterback. "I believe it's not accurate to say that," Nolan said of the "bust" label. "... He was very upbeat and positive in our meeting today."
The quarterback battle began with the team's first minicamp in early May. Back then the competition was between Smith and Hill, and the two alternated repetitions throughout the June OTAs. O'Sullivan only entered the fray on July 30. But he quickly showed a mastery of the offense the other two players did not yet have as well as the accuracy that offensive coordinator Mike Martz holds above all else. O'Sullivan only reinforced those attributes Thursday night in Chicago by going 7 of 8 in a little over a quarter of play, and throwing a 37-yard touchdown to receiver Jason Hill. Through three exhibition games, O'Sullivan is 20 of 33 with a 60.6 percent completion average. Hill is 18 of 32 for 56.3 percent. Smith, who has often thrown behind receivers, is 16 of 38 and 42.1 percent.
Nolan said that O'Sullivan and the starting offense likely would play a little longer Friday against San Diego than the starters usually do in the preseason finale. For one, O'Sullivan still needs repetitions. Friday's game only will be the fifth NFL game he's ever started. Second, Nolan said he hoped to have one or two of his injured receivers -- Arnaz Battle, Bryant Johnson and Ashley Lelie -- back for the game. He said there was a possibility of getting some offensive linemen back as well. Guard David Baas is expected to start practicing this week after tearing his pectoral muscle in April. Jonas Jennings also could return after breaking a knuckle on his right hand on Saturday. Nolan said that Adam Snyder (ankle) might need more time to recover. There also is a chance that running back Michael Robinson (knee) might return this week.
Nolan said the team was considering not playing Frank Gore, Isaac Bruce and Patrick Willis in the finale.
-- Matt Barrows