The San Francisco 49ers have more questions than usual on the defensive side of the ball heading into the 2014 season. One of the biggest questions is if outside linebacker Aldon Smith will be suspended and, if he is, for how long. If he should be suspended, one of the players that will be asked to fill that void is Dan Skuta.
Smith is scheduled to have a meeting in New York with NFL commissioner Rodger Goodell in “the near future.” What will happen at the meeting only Goodell knows right now. I expect a suspension anywhere from two to four games for Smith.
Skuta will play a big role in Smith’s absence. When Skuta played for the Cincinnati Bengals he played at inside linebacker. After coming to the 49ers before the 2013 season, they decided to switch him to outside linebacker. He seemed like a much more natural fit there and thrived last season when he got playing time.
Skuta saw a spike in playing time starting in Week 4 when Smith left the team to enter rehab. In the six games the 49ers played between Weeks 4-10, Skuta had nine quarterback hurries playing in roughly half of the total snaps. In those weeks, he had a 4.4 PFF (subscription) rating as well. His experience at the inside linebacker position taught him how to use leverage against bigger offensive linemen and this is what allows him to get pressure on the quarterback without having the quickest first step.
Skuta will need to step up because, while I believe fellow outside linebacker Corey Lemonier is poised to be a star, I don’t think Lemonier is ready to take all the snaps quite yet. Maybe by the end of the season he’ll be ready for something like that, but Smith’s suspension will obviously occur at the beginning of the year. So, while Lemonier continues to hone his skills and develop, Skuta will be asked to step in. When he does, the 49ers will need him to be at the top of his game.