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Skuta Studies up on Carson Palmer, Cardinals

Posted Oct 9, 2013

San Francisco's outside linebacker and Arizona's quarterback were teammates in Cincinnati.

When Dan Skuta was teammates with Carson Palmer in Cincinnati during the 2009, ’10 seasons, he was – in the words of the ex-Bengals quarterback – “a great special teamer without a position.”

Three years later, Skuta has secured his spot with the 49ers entering their Week 6 matchup against Palmer’s Arizona Cardinals at Candlestick Park.

“He’s playing the position he was built for,” Palmer said on a conference call Wednesday. “It was the same thing for Justin Smith. Justin Smith, for four or five years (with the Bengals), was playing out of position and being used improperly. Now he’s thrived since he’s been there.

“I think Dan is on the cusp of thriving.”

Like with Smith in 2008, San Francisco signed Skuta away from the Bengals this offseason. During training camp, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio shifted him from inside linebacker, where he never really gained traction in the AFC, to the outside, where he earned his first start in Week 5.

PHOTO GALLERY: BEST OF 49ERS-CARDINALS

Skuta, who is still a special teams contributor, said he has much to learn about lining up on the edge of Fangio's 3-4 scheme. He has seven tackles to his name.

Based on his game tape, however, Palmer has been impressed.

“I’m seeing what I knew,” the first-year Cardinals quarterback said. “I knew he was extremely strong, he’s was a great point-of-the-attack guy, he’s going to hold the edge, he’s fast enough to run down things from the backside, he’s athletic enough to drop into coverage.”

Palmer also used the word “phenomenal” to describe middle 'backer Michael Wilhoite, Patrick Willis’ replacement since Week 4, and called rookie Corey Lemonier, who has paired with Skuta to fill in for the absent Aldon Smith, a “really, really good pass-rusher.”

READ: SKUTA, LEMONIER PLAY FOR SMITH

“The first thing I noticed (on film) is there’s not a weak link or a guy that we say, ‘We can get mismatches on this guy on this play,’ even though they’re down some of their better football players, their better defenders,” Palmer said. “The other guys that have come in and played have played to the same level if not better than the guys that were in their before ‘em.”

The 49ers defensive backfield, ranked second in the NFL against the pass so far this season, has been the healthiest section of the unit. And Palmer will be hard-pressed to play keep-away. Still learning the ins and outs of a new playbook with his third NFL team -- he played the 2011, '12 seasons in Oakland -- he has thrown nine interceptions through five games as a Cardinal.

Palmer said there are significant differences in coach Bruce Arians' offensive schemes. Two examples: the screen-pass game and "hot combination" routes when the quarterback is pressured.

“It’s really different in a number of areas, which is a great thing because it’s not an offense the 49ers see every week, or whoever we’re playing sees every week," Palmer said. "It’s an offense you see a couple times a year with a handful of teams running it.”

With this in mind, Skuta will have to rely on his film-study sessions to prepare for a meeting with his ex-teammate. That is unless he can rely on a three-year-old scouting report to notch his first whole sack in the NFL on Sunday. 

“He seems to be very similar to how he was in Cincinnati,” said Skuta of Palmer, whom he joked that he intercepted more than once in Bengals practices. “He has great control of the offense, and he’s really smart, he’s going to put the ball in the right places. That all looks the same to me.

“There may be a few things (to take advantage of). I have lined up a lot against him. If anything, it can’t hurt.”

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