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Niners' QB situation continues to entertain

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Following the 49ers' quarterback "race" has reached the point of sport. Coach Mike Nolan keeps saying no decision has been made, but J.T. O'Sullivan keeps getting the first-team reps.

Matt Maiocco of Instant 49ers, in his 14th season covering the team, is now striking out the word "controversy" when he refers to the "competition" at quarterback.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee, on the beat since 2003, is now invoking the struggles affecting his employer's industry, offering to sell depressed newspaper stock to anyone who believes O'Sullivan will not start the next exhibition game.

The situation isn't getting better as the controversy/competition drags on. Former starter Alex Smith is now splitting backup reps with Shaun Hill.

Analysis: A successful season from Smith means a successful season for Nolan, who nearly lost his job after a rocky 2007 season.

Nolan was the team's top personnel decision-maker when the 49ers drafted Smith. If the 49ers name O'Sullivan or Hill the starter and Smith never develops, Nolan's margin for error probably shrinks. If Smith develops and the 49ers show improvement, the organization has more incentive to keep the current pieces in place for 2009, even if the record isn't as good as ownership would like.

That's why I fully expected the 49ers to name Smith the starter at some point this summer. They still might do that, but that seems less likely as O'Sullivan keeps getting the first-team reps. Also, if Smith gets the job at the last minute and fails, we'll wonder how he might have fared with a full offseason's work as the starter.