- Paul Gutierrez, ESPN Staff Writer
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As far as on-field production goes, it would be hard for just one player to replace outside linebacker Aldon Smith. He is, after all, one of the preeminent pass-rushers in the league and will miss the the San Francisco 49ers' first nine games this season while serving an NFL-mandated suspension for numerous off-the-field transgressions.
Or, as inside linebacker Patrick Willis said this week, Smith has large shoes to fill.
The 49ers, then, are looking again at two guys who helped fill the void last year when Smith missed five games while in rehab -- Dan Skuta, who started eight games in 2013, and Corey Lemonier, who appeared in all 16 games as a rookie.
Asked before Smith’s suspension came down if Skuta would be the guy in the 49ers’ 3-4 base defense with Lemonier coming in on passing downs, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said, “There’s a good chance that could be the way, yes. It will be some combination. It won’t be one guy.”
Fangio also said the 49ers knowing a suspension was coming, even if they did not know the length, would make losing Smith easier to handle.
Skuta, though, does not see himself as “stepping in” for Smith.
“I mean, I’m going to step my game up because everybody’s got to every year, that’s just the way football is,” he said. “I’m going to play as hard as I possibly can. But I’m expecting to play no matter what. We had a pretty good little rotation going at the end of the season last year and I thought that worked well for everybody. I see it as just taking it from there.
“Maybe you guys think of me as a 2, but I really don’t.”
“Everyone has confidence in me now this year with seeing me last year,” he added. “I had confidence in myself, but people got to see it first.”
His 34 tackles last season tied a career high and his first career fumble recovery, against the Jacksonville Jaguars at London’s Wembley Stadium, was returned 47 yards for a touchdown.
Lemonier, meanwhile, had a sack and safety of Arizona’s Carson Palmer.
Having taken so many snaps already in camp has Lemonier more prepared this time around, he said.
“I’ve just got to go out there and do my job and make plays within the defense,” Lemonier said. “I feel like I just know more from last year so (knowing a suspension for Smith was coming) didn’t really affect me.
“We weren’t rushed or anything like that. We knew the plays before then.”