Dilfer to start vs. Giants, but Smith will be in uniform

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Alex Smith believes he's ready to
take over the San Francisco 49ers again. Coach Mike Nolan thinks
his quarterback's competitive streak is healthier than his

Trent Dilfer will start again for the 49ers (2-3) on Sunday,
though Smith also will be in uniform when they visit the New York

Nolan made his decision Thursday after watching two days of
practice with Dilfer and Smith, who separated his right shoulder on
the third play of San Francisco's 23-3 loss to Seattle on Sept. 30.
Dilfer, a 14th-year pro, is 24-of-52 for 254 yards with three
interceptions and one touchdown pass since then.

Though Smith returned to practice this week and participated in
most drills while wearing pads Thursday, Nolan isn't ready to put a
key game on the sore shoulders of his former No. 1 overall draft

"I'm not certain that the confidence in Alex, or my confidence
in watching him, is where it needs to be," Nolan said. "I know he
wants to play in the worst way, but I think he understands what I

The 49ers were cautiously optimistic Smith could return quickly
from a potentially serious injury, and he rewarded them by jumping
back into practice following the club's bye week. But he didn't
participate in every drill Wednesday, and Dilfer took most of the
first-team snaps Thursday while Smith watched with the coaches.

"It's disappointing," Smith said. "I've been with this team
for a while now, and to see another guy in your huddle, it's a
strange feeling."

Smith, the 49ers' starter since midway through his rookie
season, took every snap for San Francisco last year. Nolan hasn't
decided whether Smith or third-stringer Shaun Hill will be Dilfer's

"You need reps in practice to get your confidence in what
you're doing," Nolan said. "Any quarterback will tell you they
need reps to be certain."

Smith led the 49ers to season-opening victories over Arizona and
St. Louis, but his numbers are unimpressive with a mediocre
receiving corps and a struggling offensive line. He's 43-of-84 for
461 yards with one TD pass and one interception while getting
sacked 10 times for a 66.6 passer rating.

"It's tough, because I'm competitive and I think I can do it,"
Smith said. "But to not have practiced for a couple weeks and go
out there and not be 100 percent confident in your arm and what it
can do, it probably wouldn't be the best thing for this team in the
big picture."

Nolan claimed his decision wasn't influenced by the Giants'
vaunted pass rush, but keeping Smith out of harm's way could be
important against a defense led by sack specialists Osi Umenyiora,
Michael Strahan, Justin Tuck and Mathias Kiwanuka.

No matter who's taking the snaps, the offense has failed to gain
200 yards in four of the Niners' five games. After a slow start
under Smith, San Francisco has scored just 10 points in nearly two
full games under Dilfer, who is getting his first playing time
since 2005.

"The mind-set is no different, but that uncomfortableness of
what's going to happen, I think coach Nolan did the right thing to
make a decision," Dilfer said. "You always want to be part of the
solution, and I'm very excited about the opportunity. I've
established a great rapport with the guys, and I think that shows
on the practice field."

Nolan also expects tight end Vernon Davis to play Sunday after
missing the last two games with a sprained knee ligament, while
linebacker Hannibal Navies (knee) and special-teams standout Keith
Lewis (hamstring) probably won't play. Davis, last year's No. 6
overall pick, participated in all parts of practice for the second
straight day.