Each year, we like to run a series of posts called "90-in-90." The idea is that we'll take a look at every player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few ways. This roster will certainly change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not exactly 90 players in 90 days. At this point, it's a name we're keeping around for street cred.
Last March, the San Francisco 49ers signed free agent linebacker Dan Skuta to a 2-year deal. We spoke with our Cincinnati Bengals blog to learn more about Skuta, and all indications were that he would be a strong special teams player. Beyond that, he was a guy who was somewhat limited from an athletic standpoint, but would bust his butt nonetheless. My assumption at the time was that he would focus on special teams, and anything else would be a bonus.
Through the first three games of the 2013 regular season, Skuta played almost exclusively on special teams. He got six defensive snaps in Week 2 against the Seahawks, but I believe that came fairly late in the game. However, starting in Week 4, my theory went out the window. 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith entered rehab after the Week 3 loss to the Colts, which opened the door for Dan Skuta and Corey Lemonier to see extensive playing time. The two worked in a rotation, with Skuta getting more snaps in Weeks 4, 5, and 10, and Lemonier getting more in Weeks 6, 7, and 8. The most noticeable difference in snaps came in Week 10, when Skuta had 41 snaps, Lemonier had 15, and Aldon Smith had 15. Prior to that, the biggest difference came in Week 6, when Lemonier had 43 snaps to Skuta's 21.
The two of them were not equal to Aldon Smith, but they did solid work. Lemonier was the more naturally gifted of the two, but we saw the battle from Skuta when he was on the field. He graded out positively at Pro Football Focus, ranked 11th in their pass rush productivity rankings, and generally seemed to be there to make plays when needed. Considering his cap figure was $1.35 million last year, I'd say it was a worthwhile pickup in light of the unexpected need that arose.
Why he might improve:
I don't know that Skuta will provide a ton more, but one way we could see improvement is in fact if Aldon Smith faces any sort of suspension. Last season, Skuta had to fill in on the fly when Smith left for rehab. If the team knows heading into camp that Smith would face a suspension, that might help Skuta be even more prepared for a platoon role. I'm sure Skuta knew plenty about the defensive game plan, but I think having the mindset that you're going to be contributing more than initially expected could potentially help.
Why he might regress:
While Skuta does not have a ton of upside, he also doesn't really have much downside. That being said, the 49ers have to be hoping Corey Lemonier steps up and takes firm control of the "utility" OLB role. If Aldon misses any time, Skuta will get some time as well, but I have to think Lemonier is the front-runner at for now. And that's not even factoring in Aaron Lynch. All three likely will rotate in behind Smith and Brooks. Lynch is likely to focus almost exclusively on a hand-in-the-dirt role, while Skuta would be a bit more of a base down guy.
Odds of making the roster:
After putting together a solid 2013 season, I think Skuta is pretty close to a roster lock. I don't think he is necessarily a 100 percent lock, but he is close. The addition of Lynch provides some competition, but given that he'll focus on a hand-in-the-dirt role, and has his share of question marks, I don't think it is enough to really threaten Skuta's roster spot. If Lemonier can emerge as both a pass rush threat AND a solid enough run defender, Skuta's spot could be threatened, but I think Skuta showed enough to stick through this final year of his contract.