SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- The San Francisco 49ers decided on J.T. O'Sullivan as their starting quarterback for the regular season.
O'Sullivan clinched the job with a strong performance during Thursday night's 37-30 preseason victory over Chicago, and coach Mike Nolan said it was time to make O'Sullivan's status official after a summer of uncertainty surrounding the position.
"J.T. O'Sullivan will be our starting quarterback going into the season and I'm expecting him to succeed," Nolan said Friday. "I'm very confident J.T. is at the point where he's our best man for the job right now."
But he was named to start San Francisco's preseason opener Aug. 8 against Oakland and has been practicing and playing with the first unit ever since. O'Sullivan did not take any snaps in 11-on-11 team drills during the first seven days of training camp as Smith and Hill got all the work.
But both players struggled to grasp new coordinator Mike Martz's complex offensive system, and O'Sullivan was given an opportunity in the lead role earlier this month.
O'Sullivan moved the offense during San Francisco's first two preseason games and then had a stellar performance during Thursday's win in Chicago. He completed 7 of 8 passes for 126 yards and guided San Francisco on scoring drives each of his three series in the game.
O'Sullivan left the game during the first minute of the second quarter after completing a 37-yard touchdown pass to Jason Hill that gave San Francisco a 13-10 lead.
"This hasn't been a case of Alex and Shaun not performing well," Nolan said. "This has been a case of J.T. performing very well. That's why we are where we are. J.T. has very good command of the offense, he's played well in all three preseason games, and now it's time for us to get ready for the regular season."
Nolan said Smith, the team's regular starter the past two years, would be O'Sullivan's backup entering the season while Hill would assume the role as the team's No. 3 quarterback.
The 49ers invested $24 million in guaranteed money in Smith as part of a $49.5 million deal when they made him the No. 1 overall selection of the 2005 draft. They also signed Hill to a new $6 million contract this year after he went 2-0 as a starter last December after Smith and backup Trent Dilfer were injured.
O'Sullivan signed a one-year deal with the team this year for the veteran's minimum salary of $645,000. But ultimately what mattered more for the 49ers than those numbers is performance on the field.
"We want to play our best players that give us the best chance to win," Nolan said. "For our football team's sake, it's time to get ready for our opening game. This (decision) puts more focus on where it should be now."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press