Dan Skuta hasn’t had anything handed to him in his pro football career.
The former standout linebacker at little Grand Valley State went undrafted in 2009 and was signed as a free agent by the Cincinnati Bengals. After playing eight games as a rookie that season, he’s played all 48 games the past three seasons, mostly as a reserve inside linebacker and special teams player.
Now entering his fifth NFL season with a new team, Skuta is eager to contribute in a big way, even if his playing time will likely be limited at linebacker.
After signing an offseason free-agent deal with the 49ers, Skuta should be a solid backup at both inside and outside linebacker spots in the Niners’ 3-4 defense and provide a proven tackler on special teams. In 56 games on special teams, Skuta has 56 tackles. Last season, he led the Bengals with 17 special-teams tackles.
In Cincinnait,Skuta was almost exclusively an inside linebacker, but since joining the 49ers he’s gotten work at both positions. When training camp begins next week, he’ll continue to get reps at both spots and on special teams.
“I’ve done all kinds of stuff,” he told 49ers.com recently of his new role with his new team. “This is another addition to that.”
Though Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman have been both durable and outstanding at the inside linebacker spots, Skuta – 6-foot-2 and 250 pounds – should provide a hard-hitting, veteran to back them up if they go down. He could also step in if Aldon Smith or Ahmad Brooks on the outside are unavailable. Coaches liked what they saw of him at those spots during June's minicamp.
But Skuta’s biggest contribution in 2013 will likely come on special teams, where the 49ers have worked to upgrade their units this offseason, adding proven special teamers such as Kassim Osgood, Skuta and Raymond Ventrone.
“The guys they’ve been bringing in here, I’m impressed with their dedication to that part of the game,” Skuta told 49ers.com. “I just feel like they really want to be great at it here and we’ve got the guys to do it.”
Last season the 49ers were the second-worst team in the NFL in kickoff-return coverage, so Skuta, Ventrone and Osgood have been brought in to help the team improve.
Skuta was nominated by the Bengals coaching staff in 2010 as a Pro Bowl special teams player, and brings a passion for that role to San Francisco.
“I always have the mindset that I’m going to make the play every time and never take a play off,” Skuta said when he was signed in March. “I’m in the position to make the play and having that mindset that you’re never going to get blocked is something that I’ve tried to do.”
Skuta knows he’s not likely to be starting linebacker in San Francisco, unless an injury occurs, but he’s fine with that. He knows he can be a difference-maker in a special teams role.
“It’s nice to carve out a niche,” Skuta told Scott Kegley of the 49ers website. “I think I’m only starting as far as that goes. I want to keep getting better every year and be a part of more special teams units, getting in on more downs and helping the team more and more. I’m excited to do that.”