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Niners' Smith can relate to Panthers rookie QB Clausen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Alex Smith chuckled Wednesday when asked about Jimmy Clausen being benched after just three games.

The San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who will face Clausen's Carolina Panthers on Sunday, knows a thing or two about being jerked in and out of the lineup as a rookie.

"I kind of refer to it as scar tissue, things that stay with you," Smith said in a conference call. "You get put in that tough situation where you have to play and you're unprepared. If you go out there and play bad in this league and go through some rough things as a young player it can absolutely cause you to carry that scar tissue with you for a while."

Smith built up some of that in his rookie season with San Francisco in 2005, when a combination of inconsistent play and injuries left the first-round draft pick in and out of the lineup. It's a similar situation to what's happening now with second-round choice Clausen and the woeful Panthers (0-5).

Coach John Fox benched Matt Moore after just two games for Clausen. The former Notre Dame standout then had just three games before he lost the starting job.

So after six interceptions and two lost fumbles in less than nine quarters, Moore is the starter again despite his 33.3 passer rating.

"It didn't help much," Fox said of his earlier decision to start Clausen. "We're 0-5, and we were 0-2 when we made the last switch. Right now, we're just looking for improvement and we're going with experience.

"Matt did win four out of five games last year. He does have more experience. I think it was time to take a look back at him."

And put Clausen back on the bench. Thanks to poor protection, inconsistent and inexperienced receivers and a running game bogged down by eight-man defensive fronts, Clausen didn't have much of a chance to succeed.

He didn't come close. Carolina averages a league-low 10.4 points per game and is last in the NFL in total offense. Clausen has three interceptions, seven fumbles and only one touchdown pass.

Now, just as top receiver Steve Smith seems poised to return -- he practiced Wednesday after missing a game with a sprained ankle -- Clausen has been demoted.

"They just said they needed to try to get some momentum," Clausen said. "That's why they did it the first time, going to me instead of Matt and making the switch. They said he has more experience and will have me go on the sidelines and watch a little bit."

Moore' success in his second stint will depend a lot on his teammates. The running game needs to get out of its funk, the offensive line must give him time and the receiving corps must finally become a factor.

Smith's return might help.

"I love to play, but I have to be healthy," said Smith, who was injured during an Oct. 3 game against the New Orleans Saints. "I feel like I'm healthy. I'm out of the boot, and I don't have much pain, so I'm able to move around. So I feel good."

But even if the Panthers start to finally move the ball with Moore, Alex Smith warns that Clausen, who has a 52.2 passer rating, must continue to prepare each week as if he'll play.

And Smith, who has been booed by the home fans the past couple of weeks with the 49ers (1-5) struggling, knows about the need to stay mentally sharp.

"My biggest advice would be that absolutely for sure almost guaranteed he will get another opportunity, maybe even shortly here," he said of Clausen. "That's not really the question. The question is will he have done everything in his power to be ready for that moment because he might not know when that will come."

But there is a theory that Clausen would be better off if that moment was down the road. Maybe instead of taking a beating with a bad team that could not only get him hurt, but ruin his confidence, too, he should watch Moore.

"There's no set in stone way to get a rookie quarterback experience," said Clausen, who also was benched briefly as a freshman at Notre Dame. "It is good to get game experience, definitely. But for how long, I don't know that answer. Definitely, to go on the sidelines and watch a little bit will help a young player."

And lessen that scar tissue buildup.

"If they go out there and go through some really hard times there is going to be some scar tissue," Smith said. "To overcome that you have to get back on field and continue to play in order to overcome it."

Notes:Panthers RT Jeff Otah (knee), TE Dante Rosario (knee) and LB Jamar Williams (neck) missed practice. ... LG Travelle Wharton (knee) was limited. ... LB Thomas Davis is eligible to come off the physically unable to perform list this week, but he isn't ready to practice as he recovers from knee surgery.

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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