By trade, Dan Skuta is listed as a linebacker. That’s what it says on his NFL profile under “position.”
But when the 49ers signed the free agent Thursday to a two-year deal, it was for his prowess on special teams.
Though the big news for the 49ers continues to be their reported interest in high-profile defensive backs Nnamdi Asomugha and Charles Woodson and the acquisition this week of defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey and wide receiver Anquan Boldin, the importance of Skuta’s signing shouldn’t be overlooked.
After allowing special teams standout Blake Costanzo to leave following the 2011 season, some of the Niners’ special teams regressed in 2012. In particular, the team’s kickoff coverage unit was less effective. It went from allowing 23.1 yards per kickoff (13th in the NFL) to 26.9, the second-worst average in the league.
And, with backup linebackers and special teamers Larry Grant, Tavares Gooden and Clark Haggans all in free agency, the 49ers were eager to bring aboard a player who can be hard-nosed difference-maker and tackler on special teams in 2013.
In two of the past three seasons, Skuta, a 6-foot-2, 250-pound four-year pro out of Division II Grand Valley State, led the Bengals in special-teams tackles. He also filled in at inside linebacker.
“He is an established special teams player and versatile linebacker who fits our system well,” 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said in a news release.
Skuta, 26, tied for third in the NFL in special-teams tackles with 15, reported Eric Branch of the San Francisco Chronicle, citing Pro Football Focus. He was part of a Bengals special-teams corps that was ranked No. 2 overall in the NFL in rankings compiled by the Dallas Morning News. Also in his four seasons in Cincinnati, Skuta was occasionally used as an extra blocker on offense.
Skuta also has proven to be a player able to play through pain. In 2010, he played several games with fractured vertebrae and also dealt with pain from bone chips in both ankles. Those problems were resolved after the season.
Bengals special teams coach Darrin Simmons had a fondness for Skuta from the time the free agent joined the team.
In just his third NFL game, against the Steelers, he had two special-teams tackles and a key block on a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Said Simmons: “He made as many plays as I’ve ever seen a free-agent rookie make.”
The Niners are hoping for a similar impact in his first season in San Francisco.