Mike Singletary and Mike Martz have developed a classic good-coach, bad-coach routine when it comes to Shaun Hill.
After Martz is done hammering on every aspect of the San Francisco 49ers quarterback's game at practice, Hill often stops by Singletary's office to re-inflate his confidence.
"Mike (Martz) can beat him up, and he needs every drop of it," interim coach Singletary said of his offensive coordinator's famously demanding requirements for newcomers to his system.
"But after that, somebody has to come along and say, 'Hey, you know what? It's going to be OK. How are you doing? You ready to go?' So it works out pretty well. ... I'm a very good cop, but it's just about knowing when a player has had enough."
It's hard to argue with the results -- or maybe Hill is just a quarterback who gets results no matter who's beating on him.
Hill, the longtime backup who won two starts late last season for the 49ers, has looked good again in his limited playing time for the 49ers (3-7). Just 2½ games after Singletary benched J.T. O'Sullivan last month, Hill was named the NFC's offensive player of the week Wednesday for his performance in last Sunday's win over St. Louis.
One week after a loss to Arizona that included a signature play on which he surged for a first down despite losing his helmet, Hill was outstanding against the Rams. He went 15-for-20 for 213 yards and two touchdowns, also rushing for a score during San Francisco's 28-point second quarter -- all without making a turnover.
Hill became the first 49ers quarterback to post a perfect passer rating in the first half, and he finished with a 142.3 while improving to 3-0 as a starter at Candlestick Park. But four of the 49ers' next five games are on the road, starting with Sunday's trip to Dallas.
Martz has been known for being tough on quarterbacks ever since he turned Kurt Warner into an MVP, and Hill seems honored by the chance to take the instructive abuse.
"That makes it hot in practice. It makes it tough," Hill said. "And then the games, obviously, don't seem so hard. I'm able to get a sense of exactly what he wants throughout the week, just because he's demanding. If he wasn't then you could go into a game and not know exactly what you're supposed to do, if you're getting away with things you shouldn't be during the week."
O'Sullivan's 17 turnovers in 7 and a half games were the main reason Singletary yanked the 49ers' other longtime backup passer and replaced him with Hill midway through a loss to Seattle. While Hill is an inventive player who can easily escape the pocket and flip a long completion to backup running back DeShaun Foster with little more than eye contact, he's also careful with the ball and smart enough to avoid many sacks.
Hill has a well-founded reputation as an unimpressive practice player, and many observers thought he barely even got a chance to beat out O'Sullivan and Alex Smith for the starting job during the summer. After the last two games, many fans have wondered why Hill hasn't been running the 49ers all season.
Singletary says the decision made by Martz and former coach Mike Nolan was based on more than Hill's practice work.
"I think he knew at that time he just wasn't ready," Singletary said. "There's so much to this offense: Just knowing exactly where the receivers are, the timing, knowing where the line is going to be."
But with Smith out for the season and O'Sullivan unable to hang on to the ball, the 49ers asked Hill to lead them on Sundays despite his everyday struggles. With plenty of help from Martz, he's getting it together.
"Practice is hard, because you're just getting the game plan," Hill said. "The longer the week goes, then you get far more study time in it."