49ers join Panthers as only teams to start four QBs this season

Out of football only two weeks ago, veteran quarterback Chris Weinke will be in the starting lineup for San Francisco when the 49ers conclude their season against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday afternoon.

The seven-year veteran, who was signed in mid-December after starter Alex Smith was placed on injured reserve following shoulder surgery, was named the starter by coach Mike Nolan on Friday afternoon. Shaun Hill, who had started the past two games and led the 49ers to victories in both contests, missed a third straight day of practice with back spasms.

Hill was injured in last week's victory over Tampa Bay on a late hit by Bucs rookie defensive and Gaines Adams. The Bucs' first-round pick was fined $5,000 for the hit. Hill is also nursing a rib injury and has been playing with a broken index finger on his throwing hand.

The start will be the first for Weinke since Christmas Eve 2006, when he led the Carolina Panthers to a 10-3 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in a game in which he threw only seven passes.

Weinke, 35, was released by the Panthers on March 1, was not in camp with any NFL team this summer, and had been out of football until the 49ers phoned him. He is hopeful that his late season audition with the 49ers will land him a training camp invitation for 2008.

"I'm excited," Weinke told the team's Web site about his opportunity to start. "I feel like I got more comfortable as the week went on. Obviously, it helps with the more 'reps' you take and I think the coaches did a great job of putting together a game plan that I feel comfortable with. I feel like we had a good week of practice. It's the last game of the year and it's going to be fun to get out there and play and hopefully finish up strong."

With Trent Dilfer sidelined and Hill ailing, the 49ers activated Drew Olson from the practice squad, and he will be the No. 2 quarterback. Hill will serve as the No. 3 or "emergency" quarterback.

San Francisco will join Carolina as the only two teams in the league this year to employ four different starting quarterbacks. Smith, the top overall pick in the 2005 draft, opened the year as the starter. He gave way to Dilfer after his shoulder injury, and then Hill moved into the lineup.

The 2000 Heisman Trophy winner, Weinke was a fourth-round pick of Carolina in the 2001 draft. The former Florida State star has played in 28 games, with 19 starts, and all but four of those starts came in his rookie season. He has played sparingly since that 2001 debut year. Weinke has completed 373 of 687 passes for 3,800 yards, with 14 touchdown passes and 26 interceptions, for a career passer rating of 61.4.

Weinke appeared in three games for Carolina in 2006, starting all three when Jake Delhomme was injured, and he completed 56 of 96 passes for 625 yards, with two touchdown passes and four interceptions.

Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com.