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Wyche delays call on starting QB

When he's not concentrating on beating the 49ers, Sam Wyche has a little mind game going with his two young quarterbacks.

Wyche on Wednesday continued to delay telling anyone whether rookie Trent Dilfer or Craig Erickson will start Sunday at Candlestick Park.

The two quarterbacks split time in practice Wednesday and shrugged off Wyche's silence.

All the signs point to Dilfer's making his first NFL start.

"Trent is the No. 1 pick. Somewhere along the line we're going to want to take a look at him," Wyche said. "And it may or may not be this week. That will depend a lot on Trent's practice. We're not going to stick him out there when he's not ready to go.

"(The team) is not feeling like: "Okay, the young guy is in, coach must think we're not going to win this game. We will never play a game that way. We're going after this game to win it. If one guy goes in there and he's not having a hot day, we've got two guys ready to go."

Dilfer, who signed an eight-year, $16.5-million contract as the team's first-round pick, is considered the QB of the future.

Two weeks ago, he relieved Erickson in the second quarter with Tampa Bay trailing Atlanta 17-0 and quickly threw three interceptions.

But with the bye week to prepare for San Francisco and the Bucs ranked 27th in the league in scoring, Wyche left the door open to start Dilfer.

"I think a lot of people think I'm automatically going to play just because I make a lot of money as a first-round pick," Dilfer said. "But I know this team too well, I know Sam too well to know we're not going to let a contract stop us from winning. And if putting me in there is going to stop us from winning, it's not going to be done. I don't think I'm going to hurt this team's chances of winning.

Nickerson returns

Linebacker Hardy Nickerson practiced for the first time since severely spraining his left ankle on the first play at Green Bay Sept. 25. Nickerson is listed as questionable but expected to play Sunday.

"It's great to have him back, because he's kind of the heart and soul of the ballclub, especially on the defensive side," Wyche said. "He sets the tone for a lot of things. He was not 100 percent. I asked him what he thought and he mentioned 70 percent. I don't know if he was pulling my leg or giving it a wild guess. Tomorrow is the big day. How does he feel in the morning after a day's work?"

_ RICK STROUD

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