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Niners QB Alex Smith out for Sunday, but won't need surgery

| Tuesday, Oct. 2, 2007

SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Although Alex Smith probably will miss more than one game after separating his right shoulder, the San Francisco quarterback is sticking with the best-case scenario until he hears something worse.

Smith definitely won't play in the 49ers' next game against Baltimore after getting hurt on the third play of their 23-3 loss to Seattle on Sunday. The Niners have a bye next week, and Smith is cautiously optimistic he'll be back after that -- but given the injury's severity, he knows it seems unlikely.

"They wouldn't put an exact date on it, but yeah, a few weeks," Smith said Monday when asked to estimate his return. "Having the bye week helps, but I'll just push it as hard as I can and try to get back as soon as possible."

Smith had taken every snap for the 49ers over the past two seasons until Rocky Bernard, the Seahawks' 308-pound defensive tackle, landed squarely on him during a sack. The former No. 1 overall draft pick struggled along with the San Francisco offense so far this season, going 43-of-84 for 461 yards with one touchdown and a meager 66.4 passer rating.

Coach Mike Nolan won't guess at a target return date for Smith until Thursday, when the swelling subsides in his shoulder. But similar injuries often require two to three months of rehabilitation.

Smith said he completely tore both of the ligaments that connect his shoulder blade to his collarbone. He knew he was seriously hurt as soon as he hit the ground underneath Bernard.

"I've taken lots and lots of sacks like that, and if you fall a fraction of a way different, you get up and you're fine," Smith said.

With pain shooting through his body, he attempted one practice throw on the sideline before heading to the locker room.

"It didn't go very far," he said with a grimace. "I'd like to think I have a little bit of pain tolerance, but I knew something was wrong there."

With Smith out, the 49ers will turn over their struggling offense to veteran Trent Dilfer, who went 12-of-33 for 128 yards Sunday in his first game action since 2005. He'll get his first start for the 49ers against the Ravens, the team Dilfer led to its only Super Bowl victory.

Dilfer has started 107 games for four NFL teams during his 14-year career, but didn't play a snap last season or in the first three games this year. He has focused on being a mentor to Smith and a help to the offensive coaching staff while still staying ready to play.

"Not a whole lot changes except the repetition in practice," the 35-year-old Dilfer said. "I get to work on timing like we did back in training camp, and I think that will help our execution. We're obviously going to have to execute better on Sunday."

No matter who's taking the snaps, San Francisco's offense is in a profound funk. After failing to gain 200 yards for the third time this season in their loss to Seattle, the Niners are last in the NFL with averages of just 213.3 total yards and 118 yards passing.

Nolan and Dilfer both supported offensive coordinator Jim Hostler on Monday, insisting the 49ers' failures were a result of overall poor play, not poor play-calling. Hostler, who spent the last two seasons as Nolan's quarterbacks coach, inherited the top job when Norv Turner left to take over the San Diego Chargers.

"I think Hostler is doing a great job," Dilfer said. "I think we have great answers, and a lot of tools in the toolbox. I think there's plays to be made, and we just have to go out and make them."

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