Hill in Command for 49ers' Starting Job

The good news for Alex Smith Nation is that Smith is likely to get the start in Saturday's preseason game against the Raiders.

The bad news is that his rival Shaun Hill's shot at the starting position is looking better than ever. And time is running out on Smith.

Matt Maiocco has the deets in the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, noting that Hill's case was bolstered by a particulary impressive showing in two days of joint practices with the Oakland. "Hill may have pulled ahead based on how much smoother the 49ers’ offense ran when he was on the field against the Raiders," Maiocco wrote.

"May have pulled ahead" might sound like pretty tepid languange. But consider coach Mike Singletary's words on the subject.

"I thought (Hill) did a good job,” Coach Singletary told the Press-Democrat. “I think Shaun did a good job of getting the ball out and making some good decisions. I thought Alex did some nice things as well, but Shaun did do a good job.”

Hill is clearly getting singled out a little harder for specific praise there, and that's consistent with observations from everyday 49ers training camp followers. "All indications I've gotten is that Hill has pretty clearly moved ahead," Maiocco said in a chat following the joint practices. "Smith remains in the race, but he'll have to perform very well in the next two exhibition games if he has any chance to open the season as the starter."

One of the factors in Hill's taking the lead in this battle is the use of a "three-second clock" in 49ers practice. Once a quarterback takes the snap, if he drops back to pass he is expected to get rid of that ball within three seconds. "The buzzer rarely goes off while the ball is in Hill’s hand," Matt Maiocco wrote.

And it's not like there's a ton of time for Smith to make up ground. Coach Singletary has been shooting to decide on his starting quarterback by the third preseason game. Saturday is the second preseason game.

So the clock is ticking, Alex Smith.

Joe Kukura is a freelance writer who for some reason gets extremely defensive whenever people talk about "getting it off within three seconds."

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